Watch highlights from this year’s American Celebration stage show on YouTube!

President Jim Doti and students in the 2011 American Celebration stage show at Chapman University.

Chapman U. President James L. Doti performs with Chapman students in the 2011 American Celebration stage show.

ORANGE, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2011)  Chapman University’s annual American Celebration Gala always delivers exactly what its name implies – a glittering, grand fête and plenty to celebrate. But Saturday night’s (Nov. 5) 30th annual event delivered double doses of good news for the university — and a music-to-the-ears compliment for the talented students who perform the gala’s signature Broadway-style revue. 

The annual gala raised an impressive $2.12 million in one night for the Chapman Scholarship Fund – and was also the setting for the announcement that a separate $2 million gift from Chapman University Trustee Wylie Aitken and his wife Bette has put the university several steps closer to achieving its dream of building a state-of-the-art 1,068-seat Center for the Arts.

A sold-out audience of more than 700 Chapman supporters gathered in Memorial Hall on campus for the Broadway-style show staged by more than 100 singing and dancing Chapman students. The Aitkens served as chairs of this year’s gala.  “This comes at a wonderful time, as we celebrate the university’s 150th birthday as well as the 30th anniversary of American Celebration, which Bette and Wylie have guided to perfection this year, as they do with all of their passionate causes,” said Chapman President James L. Doti.

And a gift of another kind was lavished on the dancing and singing students who dazzled the audience with an energetic and beautifully performed show, which ranged across 150 years of Chapman University’s history, from the opening with the Chapman Choir performing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the closing number from last year’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “Memphis.”

“I was floored by the performance this evening. These young people are fantastic,” said American Celebration’s special honoree Mike Stoller, who, with his late partner Jerry Lieber composed legendary American pop and R&B classics from “Hound Dog” to “Stand by Me” to On Broadway,” and was the recipient of the university’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Stoller predicted bright futures for the student performers, saying “they would be right at home on Broadway, I’m sure of that. Many of these young people will someday grace those stages.”

Also honored during the event were longtime university friends and supporters the Schmid family – represented by Chapman Trustee Emeritus Dick Schmid and his wife Patty, and Marty Schmid, widow of Dick’s late brother Don Schmid – who were selected 2011 Chapman Corporate Citizens of the Year. 

Speaking on the family’s behalf, Dick Schmid said the tradition of supporting Chapman University began with their parents, Orange County pioneering farmers Walter and Margaret Schmid, and is one the family has been proud to continue.  “We feel fortunate to be a small part of this university’s success,” he said.  The Schmid family’s extraordinary support for the university has included, over the years, the Waltmar Theatre, the Walter Schmid Center for International Business, the James J. Farley Professorship in Economics and the Schmid College of Science and Technology. Schmid Gate, which forms the main entrance to the campus, is named in honor of the family.

Other stage show highlights included the traditional appearance of President Doti in the performance, first in a tongue-in-cheek tango number from The Pajama Game, as he danced with Chapman supporter Julianne Argyros, and later as the lone cowboy in a chorus-line number from Will Rogers Follies that ended with him in full flight over the stage, thanks to some tricky theatrical rigging.

With Bette and Wylie Aitken as chairs of the gala, the vice chairs were Mindy and Glenn Stearns, and the gala honorary chairs were Julianne and George L. Argyros.   The gala executive committee members were Marta and Raj Bhathal, Kathleen Bronstein, Kristin Crellin, Dee and Doy Henley, Donna and David Janes Sr., Marybelle and S. Paul Musco and Ron Soderling.

Dale A. Merrill, acting dean of Chapman’s College of Performing Arts, was the artistic director and producer of this year’s American Celebration stage show.  On the podium for his 30th consecutive year of conducting the American Celebration orchestra was Dr. William Hall, now in his 48th year teaching at Chapman and newly named the dean of Chapman’s planned Center for the Arts.   This year’s show was choreographed by Alicia Okouchi-Guy, Edgar Godineaux, Denny Newell and Brandee Williams.

After the show, the audience proceeded into a sumptuously decorated translucent tent festooned with black and white chandeliers, with fountains in reflecting pools adding an extraordinary touch of elegance.  At tables draped in white and silver and decked with lavish white phalaenopsis orchids, white hydrangeas and peach roses, guests dined on lobster salad with heirloom tomatoes, filet mignon with Japanese vegetables and potato cake, and a dessert duo of caramelized pumpkin pie and chocolate almond tart.  Dancing, to the music of the band Haute Chile, followed on into the wee hours.



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