The Oscar Night event in Chicago, An Evening With the Stars, was an overwhelming success, raising more than $100,000 for Autism Speaks and the Cure Autism Now Foundation. The event was hosted by local NBC5 Anchorperson Zoraida Sambolin and Second City Alum Jeff Rogers.
Attendees included NBC5 President and General Manager, Larry Wert, who served as the Honorary Chairman, State Representative Karen May, an outspoken advocate for autism awareness/honorary committee member, former Chicago Bears player, James "Big Cat" Williams, and current Bears players Israel Idonije and Tommie Harris, who participated on stage with the live raffle drawings. We'd like to thank our generous sponsors which includes NBC5, Harris Bank, BMO Financial, Navigant Consulting, and Grant Thornton. Another very special thanks goes out to the event committee, led by Dan & Kerry Schlaack, and Teri Steinberg.
The event began with an elegant pre-show dinner at Catch 35 Restaurant, featuring comedian Aaron Freeman as Master of Ceremonies, and radio personality Spike Manton as Live Auctioneer.
Following dinner, the guests boarded Chicago Trolleys for a champagne toast while they participated in a movie themed trivia game provided by the cast of the Improvisational Musical, Baby Wants Candy.
Once arriving at NBC Tower, guests were welcomed in the lobby which was adorned with the captivating black/white images of Thomas Balsamo's Souls: Beneath and Beyond Autism photographic exhibit.
When the guests reached Studio Level, Hollywood took center stage. Guests mingled on the red carpet as Second City Alum and co-host, Jeff Rogers conducted live red carpet interviews that were telecast live on the big screen inside of Studio A. Guests were treated like stars as they enjoyed movie themed cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before entering the intimate and elegant Studio A Theater.
Studio A was aglow with energy and life, as the Hollywood lights danced across the audience and stage. Auction and raffle items were featured on both the giant viewing screen and stage, which provided a nice frame for viewing the telecast.
The night featured presentations by Honorary Chairperson and President of NBC5, Larry Wert, who added his own comedy by requesting that everyone "switch the channel back to NBC following the ABC telecast." Autism Speaks Executive Vice President, Glenn Tringali, spoke eloquently about the recent merger between The Cure Autism Now Foundation and the Autism Speaks organization. Co-Chairs Dan Schlaack and Teri Steinberg also took the stage to thank all involved.
The highlight of the pre-show events was an original mini-documentary, written by David Royko, son of legendary Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Mike Royko. The original piece, produced and directed by Phil Weintraub specifically for the "Stars" event, told the story of their son, Ben Royko, stricken with severe Autism. During the last three minutes of the video, the gripping narration was presented live on stage by David, Karen, and Jake Royko, who ended with a plea for further support and funding for Autism programs and services.
Ken Karlson continued the segment with a moving rendition of the Louis Armstrong classic, "What a Wonderful World", as images of children with Autism filled the screen. When the lights came up, not a dry eye was left in the room.
The evening continued with the live telecast, silent and live auction items, and raffle giveaways throughout the night. Auction items included a trip to Hollywood, with a behind the scenes personal tour of DreamWorks SKG, a trip to New York for the Today Show Summer Concert series, a Mexican vacation package, luxurious furs and much more.
All proceeds for the event will benefit Autism Speaks/Cure Autism Now Foundation, for treatment, advocacy, and awareness of this devastating disease.
Thanks go out to the hundreds of individuals, businesses, and volunteers who helped to make the event a phenomenal success, with an extra special thank you to Larry Wert and NBC5 for being such gracious hosts.
We hope to see you on the red carpet in February, 2008!