- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

The Washington Convention Center is hardly the most glamorous place in town for a black-tie affair, nor would one expect Elvis impersonators to be the natural entertainment choice at a cancer research fund-raiser. Nonetheless, the combination worked Saturday night when the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society pulled in $2.6 million at its "Viva Las Vegas" ball. Organizers, who proudly declared the extravaganza "the largest nonpolitical fund-raiser in the Washington, D.C. area," also managed to transform the interior of the city's architectural eyesore into an amusing version of Sin City (without the sin, of course).
About 2,300 guests paid a minimum $600 apiece for the reception, dinner, and entertainment by Trent Carlini ("The World's Best Elvis Performer") and "Mr. Las Vegas" himself: Wayne Newton. Bob Newhart, the evening's star performer, was unable to attend "due to unforeseen circumstances," so the very tanned Mr. Newton, who was originally billed as the evening's master of ceremonies, got to belt out oldies-but-goodies amid the faux-Vegas atmosphere that included a Chapel of Love; replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid and the Statue of Liberty; and a statuesque Caesar (as in Palace), representing Vegas' multi-themed hotel-casinos.
The link between Las Vegas silliness and a deadly disease might have seemed rather incongruous, but Leukemia Society executive director David M. Timco insisted it all made sense. The event was meant to be joyous and a "wonderful celebration of progress," he said. "Cure rates for kids have gone from 6 percent in the 1960s to 80 percent today."
"It really puts you in the mood Elvis Presley was singing to me." said Ingrid Aielli, who was honored as the society's Woman of the Year after raising $84,000 for the cause.
Mrs. Aielli, co-owner of Teatro Goldoni and Osteria Goldoni restaurants, could have been referring to any one of many Elvises present. There were nine who'd been hired to greet incoming guests, all including two women, a black man, and a dwarf in white and gold outfits and black wigs with massive sideburns. "We're an equal opportunity employer," joked one of the women, Kimberly Perfetto, who said the last time she dressed up as Elvis was at "the AOL Christmas party."
Mr. Newton didn't sing his signature "Danke Schoen," probably because he wasn't feeling very thankful to the rowdy audience he repeatedly tried to "shhh" to silence during his act. "Hello?" he scolded. "Are you with us?"
The crowd seemed to have trouble concentrating while the long list of sponsors (heavy with such accounting firms as KPMG Consulting, Inc., PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young) were acknowledged along with generous donors Catherine B. Reynolds and Bank of America executive James Morton. Rep. Philip Crane accepted the Congressional Honors award in memory of the late Rep. Joseph Moakley, who died of leukemia last year. Other luminaries included Health and Human Service Secretary Tommy Thompson (who called leukemia "a terrorist disease") and U.S. soccer star John Harkes.
Guests made winning bets at an impressive silent auction, eclectic enough to offer a walk-on role in an episode of "Sex in the City," a jersey signed by Michael Jordan, and a tour for four of the Playboy Mansion "my favorite," Mr. Newton said, predictably. A Mercedes SL 500 went for $105,000 during the live auction, and two lucky purchasers of $100 raffle tickets also took home cars from Mercedes-Benz.
Christina Ianzito

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