3-Millionth Visitor Is the Center of Attention

"I'm embarrassed . Tonight was my first at the Center!" Coy Parker blushed when he delivered those words at Birraporetti's, site of Tuesday night's post-concert party for the cast of "Meet Me in St. Louis."

When the Dana Point resident swept into the Performing Arts Center lobby for the musical's local premiere, he didn't know he would be tapped on the shoulder by Center President Thomas Kendrick as the symbol for the 3-millionth visitor to the Center.

The lucky theatergoer was selected at random. As such, he got to rub elbows with "Meet Me in St. Louis" star Debby Boone, receive a poster autographed by the cast, and be presented with four tickets to an upcoming performance of "Jerome Robbins' Broadway."

"So this is what fame feels like," said Coy, grinning.

Joining Coy for the flashbulb-fest was Boone, star of the musical. "I loved Segerstrom Hall," said the daughter of '50s crooner Pat Boone. "The sound was perfect, and so was the crowd. We've been three weeks out with this show--we played at St. Louis on the anniversary of the World's Fair--and tonight was the highlight."

Having her proud mom and pop in the audience might have had something to do with it. "I am inordinately proud of her," said Pat Boone, who sported white patent-leather loafers ("I always wear white shoes--except when I'm in black-tie," he explained). "I'm proud of the way Debby lives, proud of the way she performs. And I'm thrilled that her tour is already a sellout."

Honored: Medal of Honor recipients from around the country were honored on Tuesday night at a fund-raiser for Chapman College at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

Earlier in the day, the wives of honorees met for lunch at the Rex restaurant in Fashion Island. Over poached salmon and chicken salad, the wives told about the circumstances that led to their husbands receiving the medal for service above and beyond the call of duty.

"My husband got his medal during the Korean War--the forgotten war," said Ione Barber, wife of Col. William E. Barber of Irvine. "He was commander of a company of 20 men that defended a pass so that fellow Marines could pass through safely and make an exit by sea."

Barber said she and her husband's "big Five-0" was coming up soon. "We hope to do something very special," she said.

Dorothy Ehlers of Buena Park shared that her husband, Walter Ehlers, received his medal for service during World War II. "He served on D-Day mission at Normandy," Ehlers said. "He knocked out mortar positions and rescued one of his men."

The Buzz: The Center Club was the place to be last night for members of the board of governors of the new Spa at the Center. A cocktail party preceded an elegant sit-down dinner. Among the movers and shakers who will help keep the Spa the place to unwind in the South Coast Metro area are L.A. Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, former Angels star Doug DeCinces, restaurateur Antonio Cagnolo (of Antonello Ristorante in Santa Ana), arts activist Janice Johnson and Anton Segerstrom, top gun at South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court. Oenophile Michael Mondavi has also been invited to join the board of governors, but, no word yet. Ditto for Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz. Peter Ueberroth just said no; so did social magnet Judie Argyros, declaring a preference for Sports Club/Irvine. . . .

Watch for a high-profile Center supporter to stage an elegant affair to sell tickets to the Center's fifth-anniversary galas in September. . . .

Speaking of the fifth anniversary: Word's out that chances are slim for an appearance by Whitney Houston. "She's just too expensive," says an insider. "The Center doesn't have that kind of money." (Where do broken hearts go?). . . .

Gayle Anderson--one of Orange County's power chairwomen (Opera Pacific balls, party whirls for the Orange County Office of Protocol, and the Chanel opening at South Coast Plaza, to name a few) has been invited to chair one of the Center's anniversary splashes. In social arts circles, there is no higher honor. Anderson's secret? A zest for detail and a zillion friends. . . .

The Associates, a local support group of the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, will be feted at a very posh party at the Big Canyon manse of Marion Knott Montapert (of Knott's Berry Farm fame) on May 22. The bash will honor underwriters of the Bob Hope/Howard House golf tourney set for Aug. 26 at Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa. . . .

The Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach has opened a catering department--just in time for June weddings and spring/summer galas. Also, watch for the Four Seasons to receive an entire "soft-wear" face lift. All of its furnishings--including the presidential suite where President Bush recently holed up--will be redone in brighter colors, says hotel spokeswoman Linda Barragan. . . .

Ooh la la! Sources at the City of Hope say tickets for the "Les Miserables" performance and pre-show buffet are selling briskly but are still available. The June 29 benefit--a steal at $175 each--will be held atop the Center Tower, adjacent to the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The food will be French-themed and plentiful (who can resist caramelized pears in puff pastry?) For tickets, call (714) 665-6934.

* RELATED REVIEW: F1

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