It was a night of dazzling entertainment, with humanitarian and show-business icon Jerry Lewis headlining Chapman University’s American Celebration as its Lifetime Achievement honoree, and a talented cast of students performing a Broadway-style homage to America’s nightclub scene. Together, they helped raise more than $2.1 million for scholarships – a tally that exceeded expectations.
More than 750 guests attended the 29th annual gala. The evening included a special disco-era dance performance with philanthropist Julia Argyros and Chapman President Jim Doti, who donned a Travolta-esque white suit and black hairpiece for the routine. It was a vignette that elicited jabs from Lewis as he accepted his award. The legendary comedian also handed out laurels to the 100-plus student performers.
“They showed excellence,” Lewis remarked. “I enjoyed tonight watching these vibrant, energetic, beautifully spirited kids along with Professor (William) Hall. You’ve got perfection here. I thank you for including me tonight.”
Students danced and sang to music of the 1940s, and Latin and disco tunes. The stage show closed with a Las Vegas Rat Pack-era number.
Broadway star Dennis Kelly – a Chapman class of 1967 graduate who performed with Lewis in a 1990s revival of “Damn Yankees” – was presented with the Alumni Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award and performed “Just Once in a Lifetime” as a tribute to Lewis’ career.
Another highlight of the evening: the presentation of Chapman’s Outstanding Corporate Citizen Award to Doy and Dee Henley. Doy Henley founded Aeromil Engineering (which he sold in 1998), is part owner of Cox Hobbies, operates Henley Properties and serves as executive vice president of the Chapman University Board of Trustees.
A video montage highlighted the couple’s charitable work countywide. And during their acceptance speech, Henley mused over the university’s growth and growing prominence in recent years, drawing rousing applause when he quipped, “You haven’t seen nothin’ yet.”