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By David Ng, Los Angeles Times,

Valley Performing Arts Center

Guests arrive for the opening night Gala at the new $125 million Valley Performing Arts Center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Among the performers at the gala on the Cal State Northridge campus: Calista Flockhart, Cheech Marin and Cuban jazz musician Arturo Sandoval.

Ten years and $125 million in the making, the Valley Performing Arts Center officially became a reality Saturday night in a celebration that brought together Hollywood celebrities with Los Angeles city and county leaders to inaugurate the building on the campus of Cal State Northridge.

The center’s 1,700-seat main hall — featuring four plush levels encased in undulating wood panels — is the largest in the San Fernando Valley and is intended to attract top-notch performers to a region of Southern California whose reputation has tended to rest on such less-exalted forms of entertainment, as mall culture and the adult film industry.

The first season at the Arts Center, set to begin this Saturday (with singers Shawn Colvin and Loudon Wainwright III), features performers spanning the spectrum from classical music to jazz to Broadway. Saturday’s gala concert reflected that diversity, offering a sampler platter of the arts, spiced with star appearances.

Calista Flockhart, accompanied by husband Harrison Ford, served as one of the evening’s many presenters. The celebration included performances by Tyne Daly and Davis Gaines, singing selections from “Gypsy” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” respectively; dancers Gillian Murphy and Jose Manuel Carreno from the American Ballet Theatre; and Cuban jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, accompanied on the bongos by actor Andy Garcia.

A number of the evening’s performers grew up in the Valley or count themselves as Cal State Northridge alumni. Cheech Marin, who delivered a comedy and song routine, attended the school in the late ’60s when it was San Fernando Valley State College. “I did a lot of performing arts while I was here, especially in bands,” Marin said during the after-party, which was held nearby on campus. “They used to put on a lot of shows, but they were always in the gym, which wasn’t great acoustically.”

Nancy Cartwright, who provides the voice of Bart Simpson on Fox’s “The Simpsons,” has been a Valley resident since the ’80s, and is the honorary mayor of the North San Fernando Valley. “A facility of this size has the potential to change the community,” she said. “I’m enormously proud to live here.”

Click here to read the rest of this article at LATimes.com.

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