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Rita Moreno’s Oscar gown, Elaine Wynn’s puppet highlight NBT gala

Updated January 30, 2019 - 11:58 am

If you happen to spot Elaine Wynn dining with entertainment legend Rita Moreno and a Moreno puppet at the Four Seasons in San Francisco anytime soon, there is a reason.

Wynn bought the Moreno’s puppet counterpart, a night at Four Seasons and dinner with Moreno during the live auction Saturday night at the Nevada Ballet Theatre Black and White Gala at Aria’s Mariposa Ballroom. Wynn spent $8,000 for the figure, which Terry Fator developed and unveiled for a one-night-only tribute to Moreno to open the night.

Fator, headliner at his eponymous theater at the Mirage, and Moreno signed the little figure. Auctioneer and emcee Chet Buchanan made it to the gala’s head table, where Moreno was seated across from Wynn.

Buchanan asked Moreno to put a price tag on the puppet, Four Seasons suite and dining offer in S.F.

“Big money!” Moreno called out. “We want many pesos!”

“How much is big money?” Buchanan asked.

Moreno paused and said, “Eight thousand dollars!”

Wynn then raised her paddle, and Buchanan called out, “Sold!”

Fator, who celebrates his 10th anniversary at the Mirage in March, worked up a routine tailored to the event, switching the words of “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Moreno” and “I Feel Pretty” to “I’m a puppet, not a Muppet.”

The event drew about 550 supporters at the Aria venue, which was once the “Viva Elvis” and, later “Zarkana” theater for those since-closed Cirque productions. MGM Resorts International spent $154 million on converting the space to a convention center ballroom, and Saturday’s was the first NBT event held at the venue.

Moreno is in a rarefied strata as one of just 15 entertainers to ever win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award (typically referred to as EGOT).

Those presenting Moreno included her daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher; NBT co-founder Nancy Houssels; Artistic Director Roy Kaiser, Executive Director Beth Barbre, MGM Resorts International marketing exec and event co-chair Lilian Tomovich; and Cirque du Soleil Vice President NBT co-board chairman Jerry Nadal.

More from the soiree:

Oh that dress: Moreno lent the dress for display that she wore at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony, when she won Best Supporting Actress for portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story.” It was presented on a stage during the pre-show cocktail event. Moreno wore the gown, which was made in the Philippines, again at the 2018 Oscar ceremony.

“They asked if I still had it, and I did,” she said. “It was hanging in my closet. Someone asked, ‘Isn’t it in a box?’ No, it was just hanging up, but it’s still beautiful and you need to go check it out.” Saturday was the first time the dress had ever been put on display without Moreno wearing it.

Oh that handbag: Moreno was presented with a flashy Dolce & Gabbana handbag during the VIP mingle prior to the event (the company’s store at Crystals was an event sponsor). “This is really, really gorgeous,” Moreno said, then smiled and added, “Is there any money in it? When I was a kid, when you gave somebody a purse, you had to put a penny in it.” Houssels laughed and said, “Nobody here has a penny!” D&G marketing exec Sanjay Hathiramani offered, “By the end of the evening, we’ll crowdsource a penny for you.”

Hey, Paula! Paula Abdul, attending the event with Silverton Chief Executive Officer Craig Cavileer, returned to the event that honored her with the 2007 NBT Woman of the Year award. Abdul told me she is scanning options for a residency in Las Vegas. She most recently performed here Nov. 10 at Red Rock Resort, and has long been eager to open a show in a Vegas venue, on or off the Strip.

Ortega’s dream: Director and choreographer Kenny Ortega says the overhaul and upgrade to the “Lake of Dreams” multimedia production at Wynn Las Vegas should be finished by December, though it won’t feature a specified holiday theme.

Ortega, who is working with Wynn reps on the Lake of Dreams refresh, attended the event with his friend and Wynn casting director Louann Madorma. He is known for his creative work on the “High School Musical” franchise and Michael Jackson’s planned “This Is It” concert series at London’s O2 Arena, which was in development when Jackson died in 2009. He’s worked with Wynn creative reps for several years, including on the “Funhouse” production, Steve Wynn’s multimillion-dollar show from 2013 that never made it to the stage.

Great conduct: Announced just prior to Saturday’s program, Vegas Philharmonic music director Donato Cabrera is conducting for the Feb. 15-16 NBT “Firebird” mixed repertory program at Reynolds Hall at Smith Center (show times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and 2 p.m. Feb. 17). It is Cabrera’s first appearance with the company, and member of the Philharmonic are set to perform.

Fator’s prep: Fator said he spent “several weeks” on his one-off routine. Young designer, Landon Harvey, who is just starting as a professional puppet maker, worked on the figure.

Two dog night: A pair of spaniel-mix puppies sold for $3,000 apiece during the live auction.

Men without shirts: Members of “Chippendales” at the Rio posed with Moreno on the red carpet. The production is due to announce a new guest star, one who has not performed in the show previously.

Uplifting quote: Moreno encapsulated her love for dance during her acceptance speech: “Real men don’t lift weights. They lift women.”

Note: This version of the column fixes the error in the character portrayed by Rita Moreno in “West Side Story.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter,@JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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