Lupus is a chronic complex autoimmune disease which predominantly affects young women. The disease causes the immune system to create antibodies that attack tissues and organs. It disproportionally impacts African American, Hispanic, and Asian women. Hence, lupus is an issue which relates to women’s health, public health, minority health, economics, and research.
The Lupus Research Alliance consists of three merged organizations: the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), a national voluntary health organization dedicated to finding better treatments and ultimately preventing and curing systemic lupus; the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing lupus research, patient education, advocacy and awareness; and the Lupus Research Institute (LRI), which supports innovative research to inspire scientific discovery to combat this complex autoimmune disease.
The Lupus Research Alliance 2019 Breaking Through Gala was held on November 25 at the new Zeigfeld Ballroom event space. This venue is housed in what was the Zeigfeld Theater, the site of many movie premieres which was named for the Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1867-1932). I am interested in the fact that Ziegfeld was married to Billie Burke, the actress who played Glinda the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz. I noticed that a sign which says “Ziegfeld Theater” is still located on the building’s eastern façade.
Holding the Gala at the Ballroom imbued it with nostalgia, glamor, and pizazz. Guests were treated to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on what was the theater’s balcony. They could look down upon the beautifully appointed dining tables emblazoned by the Alliances’ purple and red symbolic colors. The original stunning chandeliers were also resplendent in purple and red. The purple and red illumination theme was extended to nothing less than the Empire State Building which was specially lighted for the evening to honor the Alliance’s efforts to find a cure. Exiting the Gala under the still extant marquee lights felt like leaving an exciting movie premiere.
The Gala, whose theme was “breaking through,” honored Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Visa Inc. and Molly McCabe the Co-Founder of the former Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus. Brenda Blackmon, an Emmy-winning journalist, hosted the event. Tony Award-winning actress and singer Laura Benanti provided the evening’s superb entertainment.
Michael R. Bloomberg and Lady Gaga served as honorary co-chairs. In a video message Bloomberg said, “Tonight we celebrate the scientific advances this amazing group makes possible. . . . We are sharing a simple and powerful message: Join us.” When the audience resoundingly applauded Bloomberg’s electronic presence, I noted that their enthusiasm seemed to represent support of his presidential bid. Lady Gaga’s father Joe Germanotta sits on the Alliance’s Board of Directors in honor of his sister Joanne who lost her battle with lupus.
I enjoyed the brown rice sushi, squash and cheese presented on triangular dough, crab cakes, meat loaf, and fried eggplant which were offered during the cocktail hour. The scrumptious dinner started with an interesting salad consisting of citrus and goat cheese bon bons, blood oranges, quinoa, cucumber, oil poached tomatoes, and a citrus vinaigrette. A charred beef tenderloin, cauliflower and brie gratin, oven roasted potatoes, wilted kale, onion marmalade, and Bordeaux reduction main course followed. The carrot cake baba au rum was a delicious dessert.
It was amazing to hear a Tony Award winner singing live. I imagined that the ghost of Florenz Ziegfeld (who was known as Flo) was sitting up in the former theater balcony applauding Laura Benanti. Since we cannot summon Glinda to wave her magic wand and cure lupus, all we can do is to go with the flow of the Alliance’s fund raising efforts and hope for a cure. The Gala raised over two million dollars. When I walked home down Fifth Avenue and saw the purple and red Empire State Building I felt gratified to see a literal beacon of hope.
– Marleen Barr
Photos via Lupus Research Alliance