A Magic Carpet Ride Just Before Journey : After a party with orchestra buffs, Peabo Bryson is on his way to Wayne Newton's ranch.

Who would have guessed that recording artist Peabo Bryson ("A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)," "Beauty and the Beast") was heading for Las Vegas on Wayne Newton's private jet after his appearance at a party with Pacific Symphony buffs?

Following his performance Saturday night at Segerstrom Hall, Bryson mingled casually with orchestra supporters at the Center Club, posing for pictures, signing autographs--even singing a few bars of "I Have Dreamed" (from "The King and I") for one guest.

"I want to thank you all for coming (to the concert)," Bryson told members of the orchestra's Maestro Society. "Without this kind of support, I can't give the talent God gave me as a form of therapy to others. And we all need therapy."

Indeed. Especially Wayne Newton and his new bride, attorney Kathleen McCrone. "Wayne knew how much Kathleen loved Peabo's voice, so he arranged for us to fly to the wedding," said Johnny Pate, Bryson's conductor. "For sure, one of the songs he'll sing to them is 'A Whole New World.' "

After spending about 25 minutes with guests, Bryson joined Pate and three backup singers to fly out of John Wayne Airport for his engagement at Newton's 53-acre Casa de Shenandoah Ranch.

Also mingling with guests was singer Patti Austin, who wowed the Segerstrom Hall crowd with hits such as "Baby Come to Me" and "The Heat of Heat." Between numbers, Austin led the audience in a sing-along and cracked them up with jokes. "I love to give an audience as much as I can," she said. "I learned that when I was very young and saw a performance by Judy Garland. She gave every audience everything she could. It turned my life around. An audience deserves that kind of fuss."

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Mum on the Clintons: After Barbara Bush gave a speech last week at a benefit luncheon for Angelitos de Oro, a support group of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Orange County, she answered questions submitted to her on paper by the hundreds of guests at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

But only certain questions. Queries about the Clintons were ignored. "What standards do you feel the First Family should set and uphold?" was one.

Bush, wearing her trademark double-strand of pearls, flashed a smile and said nothing.

Over and over, the former First Lady, assisted by luncheon chairwoman Arden Flamson, set aside handwritten questions, declining even to articulate them before the audience.

Guests soon got the message: "I'm not answering any Hillary questions," Bush finally huffed. "There's quite a few of them here, in fact. Everybody does their own thing. . . . To each his own."

One question Bush answered in a split second: "Will you and George be back in '96?" "No!" she said.

The former First Lady and her husband are thoroughly enjoying being just folks.

"Since we left the White House, I'm happy to report that we've settled comfortably back into private life. . . . I drive a Mercury, he cooks eggs and bacon," she said.

"After 30 years of public life, it's nice to be out of the news, out of the public eye. Recently, at a celebrity golf tournament, (TV newscaster) Bryant Gumbel hit a sea gull (and it made headlines). George hit four spectators and you never heard a word."

Both of the Bushes are penning books. "His is a very serious reflective discussion on foreign policy, such as what happened in the Oval Office the night Desert Storm began. . . . Mine will be more along the lines of what happened under the table the night George did you know what (threw up at a state dinner in Japan)."

Before she concluded her remarks, Bush made a pitch for literacy, her pet project. "Did you know that one out of 10 drivers can't read the road signs? That the average kindergartner has watched 5,000 hours of television? That's more time than it takes to get a college degree!"

For Flamson and Catherine Thyen--president of Angelitos de Oro--one of the day's highlights came when Bush graciously acknowledged their contributions to the local charity scene. "You are not only points of light," Bush said. "You are beacons."

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Imagination Celebration kickoff: Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza will be the site of tonight's kickoff party for the Imagination Celebration of Orange County.

The event will feature the kind of performances, demonstrations, hands-on activities and art exhibits that will be showcased at the celebration Saturday and April 23 through May 1 at more than 40 sites countywide.

Tickets for tonight's party, which will be chaired by Marilyn Nielsen, will be available at the door.

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Birthday party at SCR: South Coast Repertory founding artist Richard Doyle and his wife, Diane Doyle (director of the theater's Young Conservatory), will be honored at a special birthday celebration on Monday by the Theater Guild. The party will include a wine and cheese reception, birthday cake, and Mainstage discussion with artistic director Martin Benson. Benson will reminisce with the popular couple about their careers at SCR. The public is invited. Tickets are $30 each. Call (714) 957-2602.

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