There aren't many women of a certain age happy to look their years, but last night, with 150 birthdays under her red-velvet belt, Philadelphia's "Grand Old Lady of Locust Street" positively beamed.
Thousands of roses lined the old hall's stage, and a red carpet out front welcomed Prince Charles and Camilla as they climbed the Academy of Music's brownstone steps to help celebrate its 150th anniversary. Klieg lights swept the sky as hundreds of gawkers lining Broad Street cheered the entrance of the royals.
Inside, Charles and Camilla were greeted by local philanthropists and arts leaders, then walked downstairs into the former Stage Door Canteen, where they received a gift of historical connotations: a custom-designed silver Tiffany box with an engraved lid replicating a program page from a previous visit by a prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) to Philadelphia in 1860. It came in a pouch fashioned from an old Academy of Music curtain.
"He was genuinely thrilled to get this," said Joanna McNeil Lewis, who, wearing a spray of peacock feathers across her gown, made the presentation. "He really looked at it and said, 'This is wonderful.' "
In a world that long ago dressed way down into sweatpants and sneakers, the Academy of Music remains staunchly formal, a look reflected in the ball-gown and white-tie-and-tails crowd of about 2,500 attending the Anniversary Concert. Even the mile-high amphitheater, where seats went for $150 a pop, was almost full of formally dressed attendees.
Gov. Rendell was there with his wife, Marjorie O. Rendell. Sidney and Caroline Kimmel put in an appearance, as did many major local arts and business leaders.
But in many ways the evening belonged to Leonore Annenberg, though she can claim only 88 birthdays to the hall's 150. She has been more of a queen mother to the Academy than anyone: It was she who made the call to Tom Brokaw inviting him to host the event; she has just announced a $5.3 million gift to restore the ballroom, and, along with her late husband, Walter, has been deeply involved with the Academy and the Philadelphia Orchestra for more than five decades, giving $33 million for renovations and upgrades to the building.
She called on her "friend of many years," Prince Charles, to lend the evening the pixie dust of royal celebrity. The prince, in turn, presented her with the Academy of Music 150th Anniversary Award.
Accepting the honor, Annenberg, speaking emotionally and with some effort, referred to the great feeling she and her husband felt for the Academy.
"He would be so proud of the love and support you've all shown me . . .," she said, then greeted a standing ovation by blowing kisses to the crowd.
The fabled Ball Book was as mesmerizing as ever - and this year was longer, hardbound, and sheathed in luxurious black faux velvet. It had the usual salutations and society portraits of the moneyed, standing amid beneficiaries of their favorite charity or engaging in a treasured hobby.
Three generations of Lenfests pose in front of a Jaguar. One heiress is captured modeling a matching diamond-and-ruby choker and earrings from Craig Drake. The Hamiltons are seen standing next to a restored 1934 Ford five-window coupe.
Historical resonance was everywhere last night. The Philadelphia Orchestra's program referred to the building's first moments of life, with an aria from the first opera performed there, in 1857, Il Trovatore, plus works recorded by the orchestra in the Academy for the Disney film Fantasia.
Rod Stewart crooned. And while no one could contend that he is the Dinah Shore of our day - she who appeared at the first of these events in 1957 - one could easily place John Lithgow as a latter-day Danny Kaye, another '57 presence.
Lithgow gave a kind of history of the Academy's life as a Broadway house, and, with help from a box of props, did imitations of everyone from Yul Brenner to Annie.
He marveled at the roses lining the front of the stage, and made an inside joke to one of the evening's patrons, Mrs. Samuel M.V. Hamilton, a philanthropist with horticultural interests. "Dodo, you've outdone yourself." He then belted out a show-tune medley, starting out with "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," in orchestrations as pastel as the pink and blue lights flooding the scenery.
After the concert, most of the crowd walked a block up Broad Street to the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue for dinner and dancing. The menu for the champagne supper included a first course of Dungeness crab and Maine lobster salad with lemon tarragon crème fraîche and micro celery; a second course of beef tenderloin with a caramelized cipollini onion garniture; and crunchy chocolate orange mousse bar with orange coulis.
Tickets went as high as $2,500 a piece. The evening grossed nearly $12 million, said orchestra president Harold A. Sorgenti - five times the amount usually raised in other years.
Said Brokaw in his opening monologue: "I'm very impressed with the way you Philadelphians spend your Saturday nights. I'm going back to New York to tell the mayor we have some catching up to do."