Monday, January 30, 2017

Vanessa Williams Honored As 2017 "Woman Of The Year" By Nevada Ballet Theatre

Me with Vanessa Williams, husband Jim Skrip and my hubby Michael Caprio
at pre-gala reception hosted by Fendi (all photos by Denise Truscello)

I had the distinct privilege of paying tribute to my longtime college pal and gorgeous superstar, Vanessa Williams, Saturday night as she was honored in Las Vegas by the Nevada Ballet Theatre as their 2017 "Woman of the Year."

Vanessa and I both entered Syracuse University as freshmen music theatre majors in the fall of 1981, and have remained close friends since then.

Nevada Ballet Theatre has a long history of honoring women of distinction at their annual gala event. Of the many luminaries honored in the past, several come from the world of Broadway including Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Debbie Reynolds, Bette Midler and Debbie Allen (who served as Vanessa's Honorary Chair this year).

In addition to being a leading ballet company in the U.S., NBT provides premiere dance education to young people in Southern Nevada in order to groom the next generation of dance enthusiasts. NBT's Academy is regarded as one of the top ballet training centers in Las Vegas.

Plus, their many outreach programs take the art form of dance to students in underserved kids across Southern Nevada. Future Dance and its many initiatives provide scholarship opportunities to over 400 students a year and the program successfully reaches over 20,000 students annually.

Longtime friend David Weinreb, the CEO of the Howard Hughes Corporation which sponsored the evening, was the Dinner Chair and introduced Vanessa as she made her grand entrance into the ballroom at the Aria Hotel. One of the highlights of the night was a couple of swinging 'surprise duets' by Vanessa and Weinreb (“On a Clear Day” & “On the Sunny Side of the Street").

Before she took to the stage to accept the evening's honor, I was asked to pay tribute to Vanessa. Including the requisite list of awards and nominations that Vanessa has deservedly received over the years (from the Grammys to the Emmys to the NAACP Image Awards and more), I shared a personal anecdote from a few years ago when I had reached the end of my cancer journey in 2009.

While my chemotherapy treatments had done the trick, they had left me completely hairless and severely bloated making me almost unrecognizable. I looked like "Uncle Fester" from The Addams Family. I was very self-conscious to the point of being demoralized.

I was set to attend one of Vanessa's concerts here in Las Vegas during that time and worried about shocking her when I went backstage. But Vanessa, always so intuitive to her friends, handled the "reveal" perfectly.

As she rounded the corner and saw me, Vanessa didn’t break stride, she didn’t blink, she didn’t miss a beat as she hugged me exactly as she always does.

She then held me at arm’s length and said with that sassy Vanessa Williams tone said, “You look fab with your bald head.”

She followed that with some of the most beautiful words in the English language: “Do you want to hang backstage and have chardonnay and fried chicken?”

As I remembered that story, it occurred to me that “chardonnay and fried chicken” is actually a perfect metaphor for the Vanessa Williams who’s friendship I love so much.

Like chardonnay, she’s always elegant, light, bright and intoxicating. And like fried chicken, she is truly “Soul Food” - always making everyone around her feel comfortable, relaxed and at home.

Vanessa, glamorous as always, wearing a gown by Christian Siriano, took time during her acceptance speech to advocate for the arts,  saying in part, "They are essential for mankind.”

You can check out a few photos below, all by the fantastic Denise Truscello (click pics to enlarge).

"But us, old friend, what's to discuss, old friend?
Here's to us; who's like us?
Damn few..."

What an honor to introduce Vanessa Williams at the
Nevada Ballet Theatre's 2017 Black & White Ball 
Vanessa Williams accepting her honor from Nevada Ballet Theatre
as 2017 Woman of the Year

Vanessa Williams (C) with dancers from the Nevada Ballet Theatre & the NBT board

Jim, Michael, Vanessa and me at the table during the event.
It's The Black & White Ball, so there's got to be a b/w photo, right?

Michael, Vanessa, Jim and I on our way from pre-event reception to the gala
I think of this as our "Reservoir Dogs" shot :)

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