It is arguably the most amazing social event on the fall calendar in Orange County.
For the 29th year, Chapman University presented "American Celebration," which attracted a black-tie crowd of some 750 of the region's most philanthropic citizens. They came, they saw and, in the end, they donated in excess of $2.1 million (net) to support scholarships for Chapman University students. The entire event was nothing short of incredible.
Each year a celebrity guest of honor fronts the excitement. Show business legend Jerry Lewis, whose daughter is a student at Chapman, was the perfect honoree. Elegant and eloquent, Lewis accepted Chapman's Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award on stage with University President James Doti. A massive screen projected clips from Lewis' career, including the classic staircase dance scene from the 1960s-era film "Cinderfella."
Sharing with the audience the back story of how the exhausting sequence was filmed, Lewis told the crowd that he had to be rushed to the hospital with heart palpitations after the final take. Placed in intensive care with plastic sheeting around his bed, Lewis was visited by his father. Pulling open the plastic, his dad moved his head inside to see his young, thirty-something movie star son hooked up to tubes, fighting a potential heart attack. Lewis looked at his dad, unable to speak.
His dad responded: "Do you know what you are doing to your mother?!"
The Chapman crowd roared. Then, major Chapman benefactor S. Paul Musco who, with his wife, Marybelle, chaired the multi-million dollar evening, joined Lewis and Doti on stage and shared a personal memory.
"When I was a very young man I worked at The Biltmore Hotel in my hometown of Providence, R.I.," Musco said. "Jerry Lewis came into town to do a show and stayed at the hotel. I helped him with his bags and escorted him to his room. Lewis was a huge star as a very young man. Meeting him was a big deal for me."
Musco kept going.
"So we got to the room and Lewis could tell I was waiting for my tip," he recounted. "A little more time went by and he turned to me and said, 'Young man, I have a tip for you.' Then there was a pause, 'My tip is — get a better job!'"
It was all part of the upbeat performance of American Celebration, starring a cast of some 100 talented Chapman students singing and dancing their hearts out as a tribute to the audience, who had come to raise funds for scholarships assisting some 80% of the young people on stage, in addition to countless others in all departments on campus.
Once again, Chapman's treasured William Hall conducted the orchestra and served as music director alongside Dale Merrill as artistic director and producer. Chapman alumni Dennis Kelly ('67), a Broadway performer, sang for the crowd and accepted the Alumni Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Topping the evening, generous Chapman trustees Doy and Dee Henley were honored with the "Outstanding Corporate Citizens Award."
Surprising the audience in the middle of the production, Doti, dressed as disco John Travolta a la 1970s, came on stage and did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine with Julianne Argyros, dressed in a fitted, flowing red silk chiffon ball gown. It was pure camp, and the crowd loved it.
Marybelle Musco, a creative and classy woman, designed a party unrivaled on the Orange Coast. The Perle Mesta of Chapman had a massive tent with a clear plastic roof pitched on the lawn in front of Memorial Hall. Inside the tent contemporary crystal cylinders illuminated the ballroom with its tiered tables draped in silver sequin-clad overlays centered with exotic florals. The orchestra played at a dance floor strategically placed mid-tent, as donors danced the night away and a dinner of Beef Wellington impressed the party goers.
Front and center for Chapman were Sally and Richard Afable, Bette and Wylie Aitken, Patricia and Richard Allen, Zee and Michelle Allred, Julianne and George Argyros, Deborah and Larry Bridges, Sally and Randy Crockett, Michelle and Frank DiBella, Kristina and Larry Dodge, Paula and Glenn Gelman, and Andrew Gromek, florist and party designer.
Also present were Lula Halfacre, Mark Victor Hansen, Barbara and Mark Chapin Johnson, Joann Leatherby, Twyla and Charles Martin, Suki and Randy McCardle, Mona Nesseth, Milena and Milan Panic, Libby Pahkey, Gail and Ron Soderling, and Ginger and Ping Wang.
In a night of major accolades and honors, it was further announced that Chapman professor Dr. Yakir Aharonov this week was to receive the 2010 National Medal of Science in Washington D.C.. President Obama will bestow the nation's highest scientific honor on Aharonov for his groundbreaking work in quantum physics. President Doti and his wife, Lynn flew to the nation's capital Monday to join Aharonov, the president and a contingent of Chapman sponsors for a week of distinguished gatherings in the scientist's honor.
THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun