“I feel like Trini Lopez in ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ ” said Paul Reiser, during the course of a Saturday night gala in which Paul Simon, Don Henley, Stevie Wonder, James Galway, John Lithgow, Sidney Poitier and Carol Burnett took the stage to mark the reopening of UCLA’s landmark Royce Hall, a structure severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
One thousand guests attended the black-tie “Encore: Celebrate the Return” event, which honored philanthropist Ginny Mancini, Universal Studios Chairman Emeritus Lew Wasserman, former J. Paul Getty Trust CEO Harold Williams and legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
Henley, backed by a band that included fellow Eagle Don Felder, performed “Best of My Love” and “The Heart of the Matter,” plus two new tunes from his upcoming album. Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, Simon--making a rare L.A. appearance--delivered a song from his recent Broadway musical “Capeman,” as well as “Graceland,” “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Wonder (who quipped that as a boy he watched Simon singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on “The Tonight Show”) kept things pulsing with “My Cherie Amour” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Wonder then noted Saturday’s 30th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King with a powerful harmonica solo, combining the “The Star-Spangled Banner” with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (often referred to as the black national anthem), followed by his ballad “Visions.”
The 70-year-old hall, built in the Lombard Romanesque style, was one of four original buildings on campus and the university’s largest and most impressive structure. Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy lectured in the auditorium in which George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Luciano Pavarotti have performed. Royce Hall served as the primary venue for the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts, which divided its events among 10 locations while renovation was underway.
“From the beginning, Royce Hall symbolized UCLA,” said the Getty’s Williams, a graduate of the university who went on to become dean of the graduate school of management and the recipient of the alumni professional achievement award. “It was not only the most photogenic building, but the seat of the humanities.”
Reiser, who served as co-host with Lithgow, had his own take on the building: “Royce Hall was the name of the first Gentile caddie at Hillcrest [Country Club],” he quipped. " [The building] is in the heart of the campus of UCLA. Before the earthquake, it was in the heart of USC--another jolt and it’ll be in the heart of Pepperdine.”
Jamaal Wilkes and a host of UCLA basketball greats turned out in tribute to Wooden, who, over the course of 27 years, led the team to 10 national championships. Mayor Richard Riordan--offering Reiser a “one-way ticket to Bakersfield” for his L.A. barbs--introduced Williams. Declaring he was from the “entertainment capital of the world--Washington, D.C,” Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Jack Valenti spoke of Wasserman, of whom Universal Studios CEO Frank Biondi said: “He was lauded by cardinals and popes--and he isn’t even Catholic.” Burnett, a UCLA alumna who first sang on the Royce Hall stage, praised Mancini.
Performing with his wife, Jeanne, Galway included two duets by composer Henry Mancini--a longtime friend and Ginny’s late husband--in his program. “Acoustically, Royce is a beautiful place to play,” the flutist observed after the show. “And the ghosts of all those great musicians come at you from out of the walls--everyone who is anyone has played here.”
The $68.3-million renovation project, overseen by campus architect Duke Oakley and designed by a team that included Barton Phelps & Associates and Anshen + Allen, Los Angeles, had to wend its way through a series of hurdles erected by the National Register of Historic Places and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA funded the four-year project, along with state and private sources. “I hope they had an easier time collecting their earthquake insurance than I did,” Henley observed.
Seismic upgrading added 25.5 million pounds of concrete and 1.8 million pounds of steel to the building, almost doubling the building’s mass. To restore some of the volume removed by wall-strengthening, acoustical coves were built above the ornate gilt-coffered ceiling in the auditorium. Large doors were also added to the upper side walls of the 1,829-seat hall.
Co-host Lithgow, for one, was duly impressed. “A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog when one of the Royce Hall construction crew let me in,” he said. “I strode down stage center and spoke a few lines from Shakespeare--I felt like a little man inside a Stradivarius.”
Academy Award-winner and American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Awards recipient Poitier put the proceedings in perspective. “Arts give us the means to comprehend what was, to make sense of what is, and to imagine what might be,” he said.
The three-hour concert concluded with Wonder, Henley and Simon joining forces on Simon’s classic “Mrs. Robinson"--followed by an extemporaneous performance of Wonder’s “Superstition” to which Lithgow and Reiser contributed their percussive talents.
“It was very intimidating to get up there and perform with Stevie and Paul--I felt out of my weight class, out of my league,” acknowledged Henley, who was approached by Mo Ostin--DreamWorks music chief and co-chair of the evening with Rondor Music Chairman Jerry Moss--less than a month ago. “They’re heroic figures to me, the only ones who could get me to play the tambourine onstage. ‘Superstition’ was always one of my favorite songs so it wasn’t until I started singing that I realized I didn’t really know the words.”