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It was a great moment for Chapman University. The first shovel of dirt was turned for the university’s very own $64 million Center for the Arts, due for a soft opening in late 2014. The key players dug their ceremonial shovels into the dirt, accompanied by a bevy of Chapman beauties dressed as Will Rogers Follies girls and uproarious applause and hoorahs from the 350+ gathering.

The “shovel handlers” were the stars of the show and included Chapman President Jim Doti, Dean of the Center for the Arts William Hall, campaign fundraising chairs Marybelle and S. Paul Musco, and none other than the maestro himself, Los Angeles Opera’s Artistic Director and world-renowned tenor Placido Domingo, a close friend of the Muscos. When Domingo said he looked forward to walking the stage, Doti invited him to sing the famous Puccini tenor aria, “Nessun Dorma,” along with dance accompaniment from himself and his illustrious dance partner and huge Chapman supporter Julia Argyros. Smiles abounded. And, of course, when Doti boasted about Newsweek’s recent naming of Chapman as the nation’s third most beautiful college, with the caveat that when the new center is built, it will be “first in the universe,” more smiles abounded. Can you imagine where else he might have gone when, a few days later, Chapman was named #6 in the Western Region in the prestigious rankings of “American’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News & World Report?!”

Others making the center a reality and introduced by Doti included Bette and Wylie Aitkin, for whom the new Center for the Arts plaza is named, along with Bette’s Bistro, the center’s renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota (think Disney Hall), the design team from LA-based Pfeiffer Architects, and representatives of the Kay Family Foundation, whose $4 million donation is equipping the center with state-of-the-art technology. Doti also acknowledged the $1 million donation by the Women of Chapman support group , for whom the 1,050-seat hall’s center stage is named. As a WOC member and past president, I am particularly proud of the donation. The big news, of course, was that the center will be named for the Muscos – the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts. They certainly deserve it. The philanthropic couple has been most generous to Chapman over the years. Their grandson Alex David, an ’09 Chapman Theatre Performance grad, who is working in Nashville with Jerry Lewis in a pre-Broadway production of “The Nutty Professor,” spoke at the groundbreaking, saying of his Chapman experience, “I had the best training in the world here.”

A celebration luncheon followed in the George H.W. Bush Conference Center in Beckman   Hall, where Chapman music graduates entertained, quite impressively, I might add. They included Weston Olson, ’04, Benjamin Bliss, ’08 (who is currently a protege of Domingo’s at LA Opera) and Chapman junior Emily Dyer, whose rendition of Verdi’s “Caro Nome” thrilled the heart!

Photos by John Saade for Chapman University