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September 21, 2014

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At the end of the Rainbow, ‘Ribbon of Life’ has a worthy home at Smith Center

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Steve Marcus

Clint Holmes sings during the 26th annual Ribbon of Life at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts Sunday, June 24, 2012. Golden Rainbow, an organization dedicated to helping Southern Nevadans affected by HIV and AIDS, presented the annual fundraiser.

26th Annual 'Ribbon of Life'

Wade Abel performs in Launch slideshow »
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Wade Abel performs in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" during the 26th annual Ribbon of Life at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts Sunday, June 24, 2012. Abel also directed and choreographed the performance with Jonah Wilkins. Golden Rainbow, an organization dedicated to helping Southern Nevadans affected by HIV and AIDS, presented the annual fundraiser.

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Diana Saunders, center, rides in a wheelchair during a performance of "Broadway Babies" during the 26th annual Ribbon of Life at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, June 24, 2012.

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David Harris, Sue Mottsinger and Jimmy Emerson perform in "Broadway Babies" during the 26th annual Ribbon of Life at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, June 24, 2012.

Clint Holmes wafted through a medley from the Rodgers and Hart musical “Higher and Higher” followed by selections from Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.”

Pianist Jeff Neiman’s hands swept across the keys as Holmes closed his eyes and sang.

Seated on Sunday afternoon in Reynolds Hall, the performance washing over him, was Smith Center for the Performing Arts executive Paul Beard, tears spilling down his cheeks.

This was during sound check.

Sometimes the investment is more than financial at Smith Center. It is emotional, too. The man largely responsible for the Golden Rainbow “Ribbon of Life” production moving to Reynolds Hall for its 26th performance, Beard was overcome at Holmes’ deeply engaging performance.

“I just cried and cried,” Beard said afterward. “I couldn’t help it. He’s so, so good.”

This was a moment that Las Vegas entertainers and Smith Center officials could only imagine a decade ago, when the arts fortress was nothing more than a concept on a blueprint. But Sunday afternoon, for better than three hours, one of the city’s great annual charity shows was staged at a venue worthy of the production’s grandiosity. A total of 1,630 fans poured into the 2,050-seat hall, easily the largest audience ever for a single performance of “Ribbon of Life,” which for years was held over two days and bounced around casino showrooms at such venues as Las Vegas Hilton, Jubilee Theatre at Bally’s and Paris Theatre at Paris Las Vegas.

A late surge in ticket sales pushed the attendance to that high-water mark. Just two weeks before the show, just 600 tickets had been sold. The Las Vegas entertainment community is notoriously impulsive, to put it mildly, and that includes just when to purchase tickets to a show announced a year earlier. Folding in ticket sales and silent-auction donations, the total raised surpassed the pre-show goal of $200,000.

The pure number of performers onstage also was an all-time high: 380. That’s more than 100 more than in years past, as it seemed everyone who performs in a ticketed show here wanted a piece of the production.

To pick a single highlight would be as folly as … well, “Follies.” Holmes is never anything but great, for starters.

The vocal group Mo5aic (that “5” is something of a new gimmick in the band name) showed again its singular appeal. The five-member ensemble broke out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” singing not just the operatic first segment, but also the rocking second half of the song, with no supporting instrumentation.

The cast of “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular” performed a self-deprecating ode to its shows closing, “Rhythm of Life.” A lyric sample: “We built up quite a congregation and a solid reputation. Now our show’s about to close, and from our hearts we say that blows!”

It blows Sept. 2, specifically, the final performance of “Phantom” at the Venetian. The “Phantom” number was hardly the afternoon’s only moment of brevity.

In introducing “Broadway Babies,” featured singer Diana Saunders (whose history of Strip productions dates to Donn Arden’s “Hallelujah Hollywood!” at the old MGM Grand, opening in 1973), seemed to take a jab at Holly Madison. It sure appeared to be a jab, anyway, as Saunders introduced a few stars of stage and screen she had performed with, reciting, “Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman and (growling) Holly Madison.”

Asked afterward what reason Madison’s name was invoked in such a guttural fashion, Saunders said the list was mostly improvised. “It was not a jab at her. It just felt funny to have her name in that lineup. It was a funny thing to do. I was going for the funny.”

Saunders also noted that she was the one who first suggested Golden Rainbow as an over-arching name of the organization that benefits AIDS and HIV treatment and research. The name was borrowed from a 1968 musical starring Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and fit the cause ideally. It still does.

More moments captured from the stage:

• Reva Rice of “Vegas! The Show” performing as Josephine Baker, telling the audience she was pitching a tribute to Baker for Smith Center officials nearly 10 years ago after noticing plans for the project spread across a table. “They said, ‘We’re going to build a performing arts center in Las Vegas,’ and I said, ‘That’s nice, but let’s talk about Josephine Baker!’ ”

• Pia Zadora, a woman becoming quite the Vegas scene-hopper since moving here a year ago, introduced Holmes in an unannounced appearance. Zadora performs at Cabaret Jazz at Boman Pavilion on July 27-28.

• Two great performances by community companies: A lavishly costumed “Circle of Life” from Broadway in the Hood, and the debut appearance of the recently formed Las Vegas Deaf Theatre in a number titled “Louder Than Words.” The entire performance was signed by a woman near the front of the stage.

• Two terrific vocalists, Bobby Black and Mo5aic’s Corwyn Hodge, teamed on “Rock of Ages.”

• Dana Rogers Martin (a former Miss Texas America whose husband, Myron, is Smith Center’s president) and acclaimed Elvis impressionist Ron DeCar performed “The Song That Goes Like This,” from “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” The number was not only great fun, but also made you really miss “Spamalot.”

After the performance, in the heavily marbled Reynolds Hall lobby, Beard gravitated to a conversation involving “Ribbon of Life” producer Pietra Sardelli.

Sardelli had just confirmed the “Ribbon of Life” show would be again be held at the Smith Center in 2013 and was asked if there was a commitment beyond 2013. Maybe Reynolds Hall would be the show’s permanent home?

“What do you think of that, Paul?” Sardelli called over to Beard. He grinned but said nothing, probably still caught up in the emotion of it all.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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