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American Celebration salutes Jerry Lewis, nets $2.1 million for scholarships

November 10, 2010

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The great comedian and show business icon Jerry Lewis is renowned for his talent and humanitarian work. But at Saturday’s 29th Annual American Celebration at Chapman University, it was Lewis who was handing out laurels to the 100-plus student performers whose talents are the heart of the gala’s Broadway-style musical extravaganza.

“They showed excellence,” he said. “I enjoyed tonight watching these vibrant, energetic, beautifully spirited kids along with Professor (William) Hall. You’ve got perfection. I thank you for including me tonight,” Lewis told the Memorial Hall audience, a full-house crowd whose generous support of the event raised $2.1 million for student scholarships.

Lewis was honored at the gala with Chapman University’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Doy and Dee Henley were awarded the Outstanding Corporate Citizen Award and honored with a video tribute for their enthusiastic and charitable support of Chapman University. And Broadway star Dennis Kelly ’67 was presented the 2010 Alumni Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award.

Kelly also performed “Once in a Lifetime” and reminisced about appearing with Lewis in the  revival of “Damn Yankees,” which segued to President Jim Doti’s introduction of Lewis.

In trademark style, Lewis arrived on stage and soon had the black-tie and bejeweled crowd crowing in laughter as he ribbed President Doti for his comical appearance in a Travolta-esque white suit and black hairpiece  in the show’s homage to discotheque nightclubs.

“It’s all part of the territory,” President Doti joked in reply.

“Now you know what I’ve been going through!” Lewis said with mock drama.

Presenting the award to Lewis were Marybelle and S. Paul Musco, 2010 American Celebration Co-Chairs.

As last year’s winners of the Outstanding Corporate Citizen Award, Don and Deedee Sodaro were on hand to present the honor to this year’s honorees, Dee and Doy Henley.

Upon receiving the award, Doy Henley, who serves as executive vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, reflected on the university’s growth in excellence and prestige in recent years and earned a huge round of applause when he concluded: “You haven’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Following the awards the show resumed its musical tribute to the great music and dance traditions of American nightclubs and closed with a lively medley hearking back to the Las Vegas Rat Pack era. Dale Merrill, associate dean of the College of Performing Arts, was producer and artistic director and William Hall, Ph.D., dean of CoPA and professor of music, led the orchestra.

After the show, the elegant club theme continued in the grand white tent in front of Memorial Hall, where guests were seated at tables decorated with white roses and orchids and dined on a classic dinner of deconstructed lobster salad, beef Wellington and baked Alaska, prepared by Sodexo under the eye of general manager Aaron Neilson, executive chef Jim Douglas and their crew, beneath an array of glittering silver chandeliers. The evening, planned by Guy Hinrichs, Michele Bautista  and their staffs in University Advancement, was capped off by a final surprise “baked Alaska” dance number performed by CoPA students with whimsical mock versions of the frozen dessert.

To watch a video production of the whole show, visit Chapman University’s homepage — and look for more coverage in the Orange County Register.

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