Post up with a little slapstick opera. Toss in a few awards. And get an assist from a 7-foot-2 basketball center.
The result: a crowd-pleasing dress rehearsal for Kansas University's new Ernst F. Lied Center for the Performing Arts at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's 70th Annual Meeting meeting Friday night.
About 800 people came out to mingle and explore the new performing arts center and watch the annual awards program, "Dress Rehearsal," a production by Ric Averill, director of the Seem-to-be Players.
The performance featured Jack Wright, KU professor of theater and film, as "Alonzo Egotissimo," an egotistical opera star who comes to Lawrence to perform as the clown in the opera "I Pagliacci."
It also featured Judy Wright as "Judy Pollyanna Jayhawk Phoenix Wright" a true-blue chamber staffer. Dave Evans, outgoing chamber chair, and Gary Sollars, new chamber chair, played themselves.
LATER IN the evening, Sollars thanked Averill for "a script that kept Evans and myself out of bunny suits and pink cowboy shirts," referring to past chamber annual performances written and directed by Averill.
One of the highlights of Friday's performance was when Jack Wright, as "Alonzo," announced that few people know the basketball opera "Pavarotchie meetsa Greogria Ostertago."
KU center Greg Ostertag walked on stage and tossed a basketball to Wright, who sang "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, it's a slam dunk."
Sprinkled between the one-liners, Evans and Sollars made the annual awards.
Charles Stough, former Speaker of the Kansas House, was honored as the chamber's 1993 Citizen of the Years.
The Business Person of the Year Award went to Dale Willey, of Dale Willey Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC Truck Inc.
Chuck McPheeters, of Northwestern Mutual Life, won the Wally Galluzzi Award. And former Douglas County Sheriff Rex Johnson received the Buford Watson Public Service Award, for a public employee who exemplifies service to the community.
THE HOSPITALITY Award went to the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza and to Kansas University's Dyche Museum, for assisting the chamber's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Membership Drive Award went to Dan Watkins, who sold nine memberships worth $2,316. For his efforts, Watkins earned a trip for two to anywhere American Airlines flies in the continental United States.
Sallie Mae won the Business and the Arts Award. The company received a sculpture by Dave Van Hee and tickets to performing arts events to be distributed among its employees.
The chamber's outgoing board of directors were also recognized: Arly Allen, Hank Booth, Nadine Button, Joe Flannery, Tim Fritzel, Jim Higby, John Humphrey, Scott Shmalberg and Elaine VanDeventer.
The chamber task force members were also honored: Marcia Atchison, Phil Bradley, John Bush, Judy Craig, Fred DeVictor, Tom Ferriter, Tim Fritzel, Paul Ghetto, Larissa Hohns, Steve Johnson, Elaine Kautsch, Jim Long, Maxine Martin, Ed Meyen, Elaine Nelson, Robert Ohlen, Terri Pippert, Mike Scott and Linda Tochtrop.
ANN WIKLUND, who was with the chamber for 11 years before resigning this year to work for U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers, R-Kan., received a dozen red roses.
KU Chancellor Gene Budig spoke for Christina Hixon, executor of the Lied Foundation of Las Vegas, which provided a $10 million donation for the $20 million Lied Center.
"Her generosity and her foresight made this possible," Budig said. "She wants this center to be an asset to Lawrence and an asset to the people of Kansas."
Evans thanked KU officials for letting the chamber hold the annual event in the new facility.
Before ceremonially turning the gavel over to Sollars, Evans said Lawrence was no longer the small town many people moved to, but a significant metropolitan community.
Evans encouraged chamber members to get involved in economic development in the city.
SOLLARS SAID the primary task for the chamber in the upcoming year is to stay focused on economic development and growth and advocating local businesses.
"If all else fails, we can always have Bill Clinton's campaign manager print signs for us, `It's Economic Development, Stupid,'" Sollars said.
Gary Toebben, chamber president, said Friday night's event was "the best annual meeting we ever had."
"I think the people who attended tonight were so delighted with this facility, they are so proud that they live in Lawrence, Kansas, and that as a community of 65,000 people, we are so blessed to have a facility like this," Toebben said. "The chamber is proud to be a part of the partnership to help this community grow."