At the opening gala of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night, Beverly Hills showed that when it comes to throwing a party, there are no half measures. This was black tie noblesse oblige style, not some casual Hollywood facsimile. Maybe it was the influence of Salvatore Ferragamo, one of the event’s major sponsors, but everyone came looking their best, and the elegance of the occasion was infectious.
“A Dream in an Envelope” was the evening’s theme, since the old Beverly Hills Post Office has been appropriated as part of the stunning new Center’s grand design by architect Zoltan Pali. And as part of the inaugural performance there were indeed letters read from Martha Graham, Tennessee Williams and Groucho Marx by the likes of John Lithgow, Kevin Spacey and Diane Lane (who knew Aaron Copland’s “Ballet for Martha” was retitled “Appalachian Spring”?). Classical violinist Hillary Hahn performed a duet with rubber-limbed urban street dancer Lil Buck, perhaps as a way of illustrating the Center’s wide open programming.
And at the dinner afterwards, catered by Wolfgang Puck, the glitterati in attendance — including Jodie Foster, Gwen Stefani and hubby Gavin Rossdale, Charlize Theron, Geena Davis, James Caan, Sidney Poitier and too many others to count — were treated to unapologetic slabs of filet mignon over white truffle risotto (take that, kale-eating herbivores!). In a speech to the throng, Beverly Hills mayor John Mirisch acknowledged the city’s debt to the Hollywood dream factories on which its foundation was built, but that its cultural institutions amounted to more than just flickering images on the big screen. “In a city that is so used to saying ‘lights, camera, action,’ it’s now time to say to Wallis Annenberg and everyone else connected with this amazing venture, ‘go break a leg.’”