By Wicker Van Orsdel
Justin Jarrell of “515 Events” transformed grand ballroom at Embassy Suites into a glamorous Hollywood setting on Sunday, Nov. 13. It was wall-to-wall glitz and glam for The 25th Annual All Iowa AIDS Benefit to raise funds for The AIDS Project of Central Iowa. The organization offers comprehensive care services for Iowans living with HIV/AIDS as well as prevention services to at-risk communities throughout Iowa. The gala was also a time to remember those who lost their fight with AIDS.
It was a night of entertaining performances by dancers, impersonators and lip-syncing crooners saluting the Silver Screen, and Frank Vaia, this year’s event chair, asked me to do a number. Guests were greeted at the entry by two luminous, scantily clad (skivvies only) charmers gilded head to toe in gold paint. So, we had our very own life size Oscar statues! The pre-show party was hosted by a most bodacious nun (Sister Clara Cum Passionata of Perpetual Indulgences) who did a great job devoutsourcing her talents to increase the collection plate for the silent auction.
The auction segued into the evening’s entertainment, and I ran into many wild and fun and mostly male Facebook friends (I felt a bit like Gary Cooper at “High Noon”….outnumbered). I sat with friends Allyn Dixon and Mike Simonson. It was cold enough to raise penguins in the room, and I was freezing. (I worried about our golden Oscar duo…they had to be freezing their little hineys off.)
The Garden dancers opened the show with “Born this Way” and “Don’t Be a Drag….Be a Queen.” There was a nostalgic nod to Bond with a 007 montage, and I must confess, I sang along out loud with Jewetta Von Beaverhausen to “I Can’t Say No.” (Yes, I played Ado Annie in the high school musical.)
The performers (some as kinky as a cheap garden hose) were over-the-top bedizened (and you know how I heart the sparkly stuff). As they “offered it up” throughout the show, there was a continuous stream of people coming to the stage, paying tribute by dropping donations in the collection urns on either side. It felt a little like church, but more fun. The crowd was generous with their hearts and their wallets…especially Bob Eikleberry (a.k.a. “Mongo” of Blazing Saddles fame). Mongo has long been an institution in the Des Moines gay community and was the founder of the benefit some 25 years ago. He put his imprimatur on the evening with the presentation of his personal awards to Mary Brubaker and Mayor Frank Cownie. His munificent sponsorship and auction generosity were inspiring to all—he’s a true hero to those who attended. The evening raised upwards of $37,000!
Backstage in the dressing room, waiting for my performance time, I had an opportunity to witness the painstaking efforts these fabulous performers go through to create their persona. (I barely have time to floss….plus they can wear high heel without cursing.) When it came my turn to sing, I was hoping the fact that I was sorely lacking in the big hair, huge eyelash and the ass department (and wearing sensible shoes) would not detract from my performance. I am thankful that Simon Cowell was not there, but it was enough to elicit the applause that I am addicted to. I hope I get to return to perform next year. Great cause, great people, great fun. I thank Frank Vaia for asking me to participate. Check out the photos by clicking here.