The Chapman University College of Performing Arts presented its annual university gala Nov. 2. The fundraiser was billed as “Chapman Celebrates” and attracted a sold-out assemblage approaching 700 donors, raising an impressive tally of $1.5 million for student scholarships.
The stunning Musco Center for the Arts became a Broadway theater as a team of producers led by Chapman Performing Arts Dean Giulio Ongaro and Matthew McCray, a 1998 Chapman grad, created a show around the theme of “The Female Voice.” The electric ensemble of performing arts students surrounded show-stopper Vanessa Williams, recipient of 11 Grammy nominations and the star of film, television and Broadway. Following the performance, Williams accepted Chapman’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts honors.
The grand fall evening began with a sunset cocktail reception uniting old friends and new advocates on the university’s handsome center courtyard. Gala event chairs Kay and Jim Burra, two longtime and generous university donors, welcomed Orange County influencers Bette and Wylie Aitken with daughter Ashleigh Aitken, a member of the Orange County Fair Board, and Michael Penn.
They joined fellow advocates Janae and James Blalock, Laura and Paul Cook, Doy Henley, Joann Leatherby and Greg Bates, Parker Kennedy, Nancy and Irving M. Chase, and Deedee and Don Sodaro. Honorary chairs and principal underwriters were Julia and George L. Argyros and Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco.
The cocktail reception faded, sending the crowd into the Musco Center. As lights dimmed and the curtain rose, a trio of hit songs, including “9 to 5,” “Respect” and “Proud Mary,” all performed by Chapman students, adhered to “The Female Voice” theme.
“This year’s song and dance performances celebrate and highlight women’s contributions to the world,” said chairwoman Kay Burra.
Following the rousing opening act featuring vocalists Erica Marfo, Molly Shaw, Brynn Turnink, Sabrina Kenney, Joey Krumbein, Noah Fletcher, Shayla Jamieson and Claire Manson, honors were bestowed upon Newport’s Sandi and Ron Simon, Chapman’s 2019 Citizens of the Year. The uber-philanthropic couple share their considerable success in life with community outreach, most notably Hoag Hospital, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Pacific Symphony Orchestra.
An exciting announcement was made by Chapman President Daniele C. Struppa, setting the stage for more alumni success in the health sciences. He shared the news of a collaboration with the Simon Foundation that will enable future students in Chapman’s Physician Assistant program the opportunity to complete their education tuition-free.
The $9 million gift from Ron and Sandi Simon will “transform lives,” Struppa said.
Also receiving major kudos was 2004 Chapman grad Brenda Brkusic Milinkovic, who took a nod as the honoree for the 2019 Alumni Achievement Award. She currently serves as director of programming and development at NBCUniversal.
The show closed with an exuberant rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
Additional cast members deserving mention include Calla Chung, Brooke Wittenmeier, Maddie Bourgeois, Chloe Boulard, Melissa Brilliant, Katie Orr and Sophia Vidali. The cast deserved and took a bow to a standing ovation.
Infectious energy generated by the finale carried over into the grand dining pavilion as sponsors, donors and friends, including Kathryn and Kevin Burns, Brenda and Michael Carver, Andrea and Mark McCardle, Harry and Diane Rinker, Joan and George Adams and Holly and David Wilson. The crowd dined on lobster bisque followed by filet mignon and a desert of chocolate truffles with Grand Marnier cordials.
Up front were Dr. Rich Afable, chief executive of Hoag Hospital, and his wife, Sally Afable, Ronnie Allumbough, Alison and Flynn Andrizzi, Marta and Raj Bhathal, Sheryl and Larry Bourgeois, Mark Hilbert, Nancy and Rick Muth, Kelly and Jim Mazzo, Hilton and Michelle Schlosberg, Gail and Ron Soderling, Sue and Ralph Stern, and Ling and Charlie Zhang.