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Joining me at Chapman University's "American Celebration" evening were its co-chairs, Mark Johnson, second from left, and his wife Barbara, right, along with Honorary Chairs Marybelle and Paul Musco

Joining me at Chapman University’s 33rd Annual “American Celebration” black-tie benefit were its co-chairs, Mark Johnson, second from left, and his wife Barbara, right, along with Honorary Chairs Marybelle and Paul Musco

Chapman University’s 33rd Annual “American Celebration” black-tie benefit, always a crowd pleaser, did not disappoint! The evening, which showcases students from Chapman’s College of Performing Arts, performed on campus in Memorial Hall for an august crowd of nearly 800.

The 135-member cast sang and danced their way through the “Masquerade: Mystery and Wonderment”-themed show that featured music from Pippin, Jekyll & Hyde, Young Frankenstein, and Phantom of the Opera, with special performances of the popular ’40s song, “That Old Black Magic” and Michael Jackson’s iconic ’80s “Thriller,” with Chapman’s President Jim Doti performing Jackson’s famous moonwalk. But, it was left to Doti and Chapman philanthropist Julia Argyros, both in gypsy attire, to bring the house down, as student singers and dancers performed the R&B fave “Love Potion No. 9,” while Chapman graduate and proud hubby George Argyros, along with daughters Stephanie and Lisa Argyros, cheered Julia on.

The student performers were awesome, and I want to mention two singers, in particular, who performed “This is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde. Their voices were absolutely amazing! Kudos to seniors Kylena Parks and Daniel Emmet! (see their performance photo) Kudos, also, to Artistic Director and Producer Dale Merrill and Musical Director and Conductor William Hall for heading up the stellar Broadway-style musical revue. Merrill shared that the students only had 10 rehearsals to put the show together. That’s impressive!

Scattered throughout the show, moments were taken to showcase the evening’s honorees. I was very impressed to see veteran stage and screen actress Annette Bening making an appearance as Chapman’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts recipient. Not only did the Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning star attend, but she arrived early in the day to conduct a master class for the university’s theatre and screen acting students. Receiving the award, Bening shared that she had reached a point in her career where she is trying to bring a sense of the beginner’s “wonder” to her work. “This award will inspire me to do that,” she said.

Also honored were longtime Chapman supporters Bette and Wylie Aitken as the university’s Citizens of the Year. Their largess extends to many arts causes throughout the county. “Thank you for honoring us for supporting the things we love,” Bette said. Also recognized were the benefit’s Vice Chairs Brenda and Michael Carver, as well as the stellar list of Honorary Chairs, which included Julia and George Argyros, Catherine and Jim Emmi, Suki and Randall McCardle, and Marybelle and S. Paul Musco.

Masquerade elegance followed guests into the mammoth transparent dinner tent alongside Memorial Hall, with its sparkling crystal chandeliers and French-themed black, silver and white table decor. The black-sequinned butterflies were the perfect touch! I loved seeing the white-gloved wait staff offering tray-passed gimlets in champagne glasses – they were delish! Dinner was first-rate, with a scrumptious roasted black angus filet lapped in cabernet demi sauce, accompanied by lobster macaroni and cheese.

The hot, hot band – The Heroes – entertained throughout the evening and kept the dance floor packed well into the night. This affair is always one of my favorites on the charity circuit. The good news is that a lot of money was netted for student scholarships. Here! Here!

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