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An amazing array of performers entertained at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers for a special tribute to Mayor Rudy Giuliani. William Fugazy, who served as chair for the benefit for the Forum's Children Foundation (which shared the proceeds with the Twin Towers Fund), hired Broadway and past Grammys producer Pierre Cossette Productions to put together a slate of performers--Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Bette Midler, Regis Philbin--that money can't buy (at least not the money people are spending these days).
As the event started, the atmosphere in the hotel lobby was hectic with gawking crowds and heavy security greeting the guests, who were stopped at several checkpoints including an airport-type metal detector. The cocktail reception was packed with real New York movers and shakers mixing among wax figures from Madame Tussaud's. (Among the unusual sights: divorce lawyer Raoul Felder posing with Thomas Jefferson, and a lanky, seated Abe Lincoln looking up at mayor-elect Mike Bloomberg.) There were only two serving tables, one with fresh pasta and another with a cutting board with ham and turkey, but the guests were more interested in seeing who was there.
In a timely fashion guests were ushered into the Imperial Ballroom right at 9 PM, as promised. But once inside the vast ballroom, the politicos in the crowd did what they always do--table-hopped throughout the entire dinner, despite repeated requests to sit down. The menu of grilled vegetable Napoleon, sliced beef tenderloin accompanied by tasty rosemary scented mashed potatoes and vegetables was so-so, but the real treat--the show--was to come.
M.C. Larry King started by telling amusing stories about growing up Jewish in an Italian neighborhood, and trumpeted New York as the greatest city in the world. According to King, “A 'D' student in New York can be the mayor of Des Moines.”
After introducing Muhammad Ali (the first of many standing ovations) and other notables in the audience, King brought out Bennett for a wonderful medley of New York songs starting with “I'll Take Manhattan.” Next Natalie Cole sang “Unforgettable” (dedicated to Giuliani, naturally) with a recording of her father, Nat. Broadway star Heather Headley and handsome tenor Michael Amante were also singing standouts, and Philbin made some amusing remarks. Arizona Senator John McCain gave a rather esoteric speech after making a few fun remarks about the Yankees' loss to his home team. Governor George Pataki made gracious remarks of his appreciation for the mayor's eight years of service. And Midler closed the show with her trademark bawdy repartee and a special song for Giuliani. (He had paid tribute to her at the benefit for the New York Restoration Project, Midler's nonprofit.) All in all it was a lovefest for Rudy.
The big close: King asked the crowd, “Who could follow this blockbuster show but God...and Rudy.” Then the mayor was presented with a beautiful painting, and he made very warm and personal remarks about his tenure and his feelings about the city in the future. King brought up Bloomberg, and together they led the audience in “God Bless America” to close the late evening.
Under each seat, guests found a gift box with a whimsical and colorful “Spirit of New York City” commemorative glass ornament, provided by Lee Iacocca and the Lee Iacocca Foundation and made by Joy to the World Collectibles as a reminder of a really entertaining night.