The Hollywood elite turned out in droves for the inaugural gala of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night in Beverly Hills.
Paparazzi swarmed the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Canon Drive as Demi Moore, Charlize Theron, Nicole Richie, Courteney Cox, Jodie Foster, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, among others, made their way into the renovated and expanded 1934 Beverly Hills Post Office and the center’s state-of-the-art, 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater.
But the real star of the evening -- which was co-chaired by Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Jamie Tisch and the center’s namesake, Wallis Annenberg -- was the U.S. Postal system itself, not to mention the range of theatrical experiences one can expect to see in the coming years across the two stages of the $70-million, 2.5 acre performing arts campus, which is referred to as the Wallis.
After cocktails in the sculpture garden and elevated promenade, the 1,000 or so guests were treated to an opening night performance, held twice inside the Bram Theater. The stage featured an oversized, Alice in Wonderland-like post office backdrop as images of stamps featuring famous Hollywood faces scrolled across a translucent screen.
Terri White and the Postmen performed an old-Hollywood style tap dancing number backed by a live orchestra; John Lithgow, Kevin Spacey and Diane Lane performed readings of actual letters -- written by the likes of Martha Graham, Tchaikovsky and Tennessee Williams -- that once passed through the Post Office doors.
Two-time Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn and the dancer Lil Buck performed Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Swan”; later, Paris Opera Ballet members Mathias Heymann and Myriam Ould-Braham performed “La Source” by Leo Delibes.
Even dinner, held in a block-long tent adjacent to the old post office, saw its share of entertainment. Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo belted out a version of “Maria” and the evening’s sponsor, the high-end Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo, staged a live fashion show, using the center of the dining room as a runway.
Beverly Hills Mayor John. A. Mirisch toasted the space and its namesake, who gave $25 million to build the complex.
“Now the theater, performance and culture can come to us,” he said, raising his glass. “To Wallis!”
“To Wallis!” the crowd echoed, many nodding at Annenberg, who sat at a table front and center next to Spacey and Theron.
The only thing missing at the lavish affair: Pitt and Redford themselves, who “were unable to make it,” Tisch said addressing the crowd over dinner. “I think Brad is fighting zombies,” she said. “Bob’s out at sea.”
As guests waited for their cars outside at the valet, dancers draped in billowy, white cloth swayed in the air on towering springs. A fitting end to an evening shot through with drama and culture.