It's an organization that would wish itself obsolete, but Golden Rainbow's annual "Ribbon of Life" show pulls together a community beyond the cause.
And a distinctly Las Vegas community it was on Sunday, from seasoned Strip performers - a few even in drag - to a young troupe devoted to the hearing impaired.
And this year, the 26th variety show, which raised about $200,000 for local AIDS and HIV relief, gave them all a new common denominator: The main stage of The Smith Center.
"This is my first time on the big stage," veteran entertainer Clint Holmes told the audience. But he was only a short walk from the smaller cabaret room he headlines once a month.
It was a bigger leap for the Las Vegas Deaf Theatre or Broadway in the Hood, community groups who helped Golden Rainbow move into its new home and away from the benefit's more tightly drawn roots of "show kids" breaking out from their nightly drill to show off their cross-training in numbers from Broadway musicals.
There still was plenty of that, from the "Jubilee!" cast's old-time radio and swing medley to the "Peepshow" cast serving up "96,000" from the streetwise "In the Heights."
But those casts had nothing over the show-stopping "Lion King" number "Circle of Life" staged by Broadway in the Hood - which works with teens in challenged neighborhoods - or RagTag Entertainment, a pickup team of local pros whose "All That Jazz" promised good things to come in their July production of "Company."
The Smith Center was a natural for Broadway numbers staged in context from "West Side Story" and "Miss Saigon." But the refined surroundings didn't squeeze out all the camp spirit from the benefit's more makeshift years in various casino showrooms.
There was that big "It's Raining Men" number with drag showgirls and shirtless male dancers doing push-ups. And that run-amok alumni segment with "Bottom's Up" veterans Sue Motsinger, David Harris and Jimmy Emerson dodging wheelchairs, baby strollers and dancing tots.
And a "Ribbon of Life" tradition was preserved with a wee dose of song parody from the cast of "Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular." They repurposed "Rhythm of Life " (from "Sweet Charity") to offer a chin-up attitude about their impending unemployment when the show closes Sept. 2: "We must make a brand new start. ... Our show's about to close. It really blows," they sang.
And while Golden Rainbow's focus has moved far beyond the gay male health crisis of the 1980s, what would an AIDS benefit be without a couple of gay icons? Danny Pintauro of "Who's the Boss?" fame and one-time kitsch queen Pia Zadora both made quick pitches for support, revealing they are now Las Vegas residents as well.
"We don't want to have this show anymore," host Chris Saldana said at one point. The audience might take exception to that. If AIDS is somehow cured before next year's show, there probably would be a lot of votes to shift the fast-paced three hours to a new mission, in the way the March of Dimes shifted to birth defects after the eradication of polio.
Sunday's benefit drew more than 1,500 people, compared with 1,158 last year at Paris Las Vegas. The honeymoon period for The Smith Center apparently more than offset the loss of tourist walk-up on the Strip, producer Pietra Sardelli said.
More important to organizers is the stability of a date: June 30, 2013. That is the locked-in date for next year's benefit and the first time the producers will have a full year to plan ahead, Sardelli said.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.