Celebrating your 100th birthday is a rare milestone for anyone. But when it is achieved by a celebrity like Real Estate doyen Ebby Halliday, you can throw quite a party. That is exactly what happened on Wednesday evening at the Meyerson Symphony Center. It was a birthday party to remember, thanks to the sponsorship of AT&T
All the glitterati turned out to feast on guinea hens and be entertained by the Greek heartthrob tenor Mario Frangoulis accompanied, by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (and you thought a three-piece band was extravagant in these austere times). But it was all for a good cause; scholarships offered by The Ebby Halliday Fund managed by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
The event had a circus theme because, as a young girl, Ebby wanted to be a circus performer; a bareback trick horse rider, to be specific. Décor chair Barbara Daseke (whose husband is running for Mayor of Addison) was in charge. She is quite well known around town for such extravaganzi, such as the recent WaterTower Theatre Gala and the upcoming Dallas Symphony Ball. Assisting her was designer Todd Fiscus, and they certainly went all out.
We were greeted by circus horses with ballerina riders in full shimmering tutus. The lobby of the Meyerson was lit in a rainbow of colors, six foot high table centerpieces were reminiscent of clown hats, and Ebby herself was ensconced in a white bandstand near the entrance. She was all in sparkly white right down to her evening gloves and greeted a long line of admirers. The male attendees were all in their boring business suits, I only saw one tux, while the women were dressed to the hilt. It hardly seems fair, does it?
In another bandstand on the other side of the lobby was a young singer, Aubrey Anna, in a skintight red dress that exploded with exuberant ruffles from the knees down. She was singing the usual nightclub fare with a pre-recorded karaoke-style accompaniment. Obviously the live music budget was depleted by the DSO yet to come.
An open bar and hand served hors d'oeuvres set a festive mood and a dinner of roasted fowl and a rolled bibb lettuce salad, tied up with a cucumber shaving, was very nicely presented by Culinaire, the food service folks at the Meyerson. Inoffensive wines were served by the attentive waiters. Shortly thereafter, we were all shooed into the concert hall for the festivities.
There were the usual speechifying tributes from luminaries such as H. Ross Perot and a film was shown that featured the likes of Roger Staubach, T. Boone Pickens and Governor Rick Perry. A rumored appearance by former President George W. Bush remained just that (except in the film). We all sang “Happy Birthday” and Ebby graciously thanked everyone for turning out.
Then the concert started. The Dallas Symphony was conducted by Albert-George Schram, who did a fine job on the pop stuff but was consistently behind the singers in the scant operatic excerpts. The orchestra kept up and violinist Motoi Takeda, the DSO’s Associate Concertmaster, was impressive in the concertmaster’s chair. His solo was terrific, demonstrating both a beautiful sound and clear intonation.
The other singer on the program, Andriana Chuchman (who was similar enough to Ms. Anna to fool me) was a pleasant surprise. Hers is a clear and lovely lyric soprano voice and she sings with charm and a naturalness that is so rare these days. It was a disappointment that she substituted the much over-programmed and perennial Miss America favorite, Quando men vo from Puccini’s La Boheme for his much more interesting and lovely Chi bel sogno from La Rondine. I would have loved to hear her sing it with its tell-tale floating and soft high C. Oh well.
Mario Frangoulis was another matter. Hopefully, he was just temporarily in bad voice. It would be a real shame if his glorious tenor was in such tatters permanently. Full out singing was thrilling but hoarseness and a lack of control was apparent everywhere else. Still, he gamely gave it his all and managed to pull off a respectable performance. He sings with convection and excellent phrasing, bringing meaning to every word. There is no doubt that he makes an emotional connection with the audience and it is easy to see why his career has taken off. But by the end, in the Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata sung as an encore, he was completely out of gas and just let Churchman sing the ending by herself.
After the concert, there was a gigantic birthday cake, which was uneatable and just for show. The real dessert was some circus treats such as cotton candy, cupcake pops by Frosted Art and fancy colored popcorn from Uptown Popcorn.
Like most charity events, none of this came cheap. The Concert and Dessert Celebration tickets started at $150. Gala Tickets for the whole evening (Reception, Gala, Concert, Dessert Celebration)─which was an underwriting effort for the fundraising─went from $1,500 to $2,500. The goal was to raise $500,000 to fund Ebby’s scholarship going forward. I hope they reached it.
Happy Birthday, Ebby. Let’s have an even bigger party when you turn 110.