As the piano player said, the tributes were so warm they were “radioactive.”
The piano player, toast-of-both-coasts Michael Feinstein, stepped on stage at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday to give one of those chatty, intimate concerts that have earned him the top spot among contemporary interpreters of Gershwin-era classics.
But when Feinstein sat down at the Baldwin, he turned his back on 3,000 empty seats the color of Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead, he faced 230 of the county’s business and social big shots–a black-tie bunch of frequent banqueters come to honor Henry Segerstrom.
They ate their gourmet dinners on stage that night, by the light of 12 crystal chandeliers.
The gala marked the conclusion of Segerstrom’s tenure as chairman of the Center board. Held in what could arguably be called The House that Henry Built–on farmland donated by his family–the party was a low-key love-in from cocktail hour to the standing ovation for Feinstein’s thematic encore, “That’s Entertainment.”
Guests arrived at the Center’s stage door entrance then clicked their expensive heels along the route that singers, musicians and road crews follow to the backstage. There, in the glow of a few rose-tinted klieg lights, they mingled for an hour, sipping wine and mixed drinks in the shadow of three-story stacks of lumber and disassembled packing crates.
Once seated at the tables on stage, the arts patrons turned their attention to emcee Walter Gerken, who introduced a video montage documenting the Center’s short history, from bulldozers in the lima bean fields to ball gowns on opening night.
Among video testimonials was a thank you from local builder Timothy Strader, who said, “If there were an Orange County Hall of Fame, your name would be right at the top of the list, Henry.”
Dinner began with lima bean soup–“we could put together a book of lima bean recipes,” Segerstrom joked–followed by tossed salad, veal loin stuffed with lobster and miniature chocolate pianos filled with fresh berries.
After dinner, Center trustees Floss Schumacher and Robert McIntyre read letters of praise from a “tribute book” they had assembled for Segerstrom, and encouraged the honoree to file the video seen earlier in the evening “with ‘E.T.’ and ‘Batman’ and ‘Back to the Future’–all the favorites in your video library,” Schumacher said.
Trustees Kathryn Thompson and Roger Johnson presented Segerstrom and his wife, Renee, with cuff links, studs and pin designed by Wyndham Leigh jewelers and shaped–as guests saw when slides of it were flashed on screen–like the Center’s grand portal with its Firebird sculpture.
For his part, Segerstrom was brief. He thanked the group and many of the guests by name, and made special note of the support he had received from his family–especially his wife; his mother, Ruth; his cousin Harold Segerstrom and his wife, Jeanette; and his children, Anton and Andrea, who attended the event, and Toren, who did not.
Recalling his childhood in an Orange County of “maybe 150,000 people,” Segerstrom said, “I don’t think any of us would have dreamed that in our lifetimes we would be able to do something like this.”
Center board President Thomas Kendrick introduced Feinstein, who played an hour of sweet standards–many selected by Segerstrom himself–including Gershwin’s “S’ Wonderful,” and Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “They Say That Falling in Love Is Wonderful,” which he dedicated to Henry and Renee.
Among guests were Segerstrom’s colleagues from the building campaign’s board of trustees, including Gerken, Thompson, George Argyros, Dr. Arnold Beckman, William Lyon, William Lund, Hubie Clark, Frank Lynch, Tom Nielsen, and Charles Hester.