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Applause: Chapman's Annual American Celebration

The starry event raises $2 million

Paul and Marybelle Musco

Move over, Tinseltown party planners. Chapman University’s annual American Celebration had it all – star power, polished entertainment and one of the most sophisticated suppers ever tossed in a tent.

Oscar nominee James Caan (“The Godfather”) received the school’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award at the black-tie event, which began with a reception under the stars and concluded with a gourmet feast of apple-brandy glazed sea bass staged under a 2,000-pound cluster of giant disco balls dangling from an artful tangle of reinforced steel.
What came in between was sure to keep the 800 attendees buzzing for weeks: First, there was news that Caan would teach an acting class at the university. “He wants to give back,” announced James Mazzo, honorary event co-chairman, as he and his wife, Kelly, presented Caan with the award. Sporting jeans and an open jacket, Caan quipped that he’d lent his tux to a pal who needed a job, “He appears on top of wedding cakes.”

On a serious note, the 75-year-old actor lamented the fact that “the movie business has gone a little askew. But I think it’s going to come around again – great performances, great stories,” he said, aiming his remarks at the 150 Chapman students who’d provided the gala with its stylish centerpiece – a blockbuster song-and-dance revue. “That’s my hope.”

Then there was news that the $78 million Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts – due to open March 19 on the Chapman campus – would showcase names of longtime university mega-supporters: Bette and Wylie Aitken (the plaza) and Milan Panic (the amphitheater). It took $8 million to name the orchestra hall after Julianne Argyros. The new center will be the site of the 2016 American Celebration.

One of the evening’s most touching moments came when outgoing Chapman President Jim Doti and Argyros appeared in a romantic vignette onstage, recalling dance exhibitions the couple had shared during past Celebration galas. Trilling “I Remember it Well,” they humorously disagreed on the details of their performances, among them, the classic “Shall We Dance?” number from “The King and I.”

Observed Argyros, at the conclusion of their duet: “My favorite was when you dressed up as Yul Brynner and bought a rubber chest to show off your ‘muscles’ ” in an open shirt. “But it was too big and it kept slipping down, so every time you got near me I got this globby Yul Brynner!” Retorted Doti: “When I can, I wear it around the house. My wife loves it!”

Also on the scene: Chapman Citizen of the Year honoree, David E. I. Pyott; event co-chairs Donna and David Janes; and former ambassador to Spain George Argyros (“Julianne loves theater!” he said. “She’s terrific!”); Doy Henley; Alex and Barbara Bowie; and Gavin and Ninetta Herbert.

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