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Final event set in Sands Copa Connection Program Series

The Junior League of Las Vegas didn’t set out to create a series of events about the Copa Room at the Sands, but when one developed, the nonprofit didn’t back down. Instead, it created a series of events.

One event was initially planned to highlight the entertainment at the Copa Room, where Antonio Morelli performed from 1954-72. The league is headquartered in the Morelli House, which was in the Desert Inn Country Club Estates until it was moved to its current location at 861 Bridger Ave. in 2001.

Deedee Nave, chairwoman of the Morelli public program committee said her original idea was to find a chautauquan who did Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin or other mid-century performers who performed at the Copa Room. Chautauquans provided educational entertainment in the early 20th century.

“I was looking for someone to deliver the story of a performer’s life and maybe sing a few songs,” Nave said.

As she networked, seeking funding and local presenters and performers to work with, the project snowballed. Faced with a plethora of talent, historians and options, she decided she didn’t have enough event time for everything she had available. The solution was to add more events, and the Sands Copa Connection Program Series was born.

The event kicked off April 5 with Meet the Copa Girls at the Morelli House, highlighting the showgirls who set the stage for lavish productions in Las Vegas. Several of the performers were on hand to answer visitors’ questions.

On May 9, LVA Unplugged: Alive from the Copa took place at the Lowden Theater for the Performing Arts at Las Vegas Academy, 315 S. Seventh St. The program opened with “The Rat Pack and the Sands” a lecture by historian Michael Green, followed by an LVA Jazz Orchestra concert directed by Patrick Bowen and featuring guest vocalist Marlena Shaw. The evening wrapped up with a reception and guided tour of the Morelli House.

The original event Nave envisioned, An Evening at the Copa: A Century of Sinatra, is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St., but the event is sold out. Author and Sinatra historian Tom Santoprieto plans to discuss the entertainer’s life, music and legacy while Tony DeSare plays piano and sings some of Sinatra’s signature songs.

“Usually when we do this show, it’s just me and Tony,” said Santoprieto. “Because it’s Las Vegas, we want to make it special. We’ve added some different material, and Tony is bringing out a couple of great musicians he knows in Las Vegas, so we’ll have a trio.”

New Yorker Santoprieto hadn’t been to Las Vegas in decades before booking this performance, but he came to town for a day to promote the show and was amazed at how much had changed.

“The constant building, the constant, ‘what’s next?’ was one of the things Sinatra loved about Las Vegas,” Santoprieto said. “Sinatra is indelibly linked to Las Vegas. I’ll tell stories about Frank at the Sands and filming ‘Ocean’s 11.’ Doing this show is one of my favorite things to do. I would talk about Frank in a phone booth, but fortunately, I won’t have to. We’ll have 400 people there. I may have to come back and do it again sometime soon.”

The event is set to finish with a nightcap at the Morelli House.

The final event is The Sands: A Place in the Sun, scheduled at 1 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Four noted local historians, Larry Gragg, Eugene Moehring, Green and Su Kim Chung, are set to speak of the importance of the Copa Room and the Sands in Las Vegas history. They will also be signing copies of their books, which are set to be available for purchase.

“It’s the Sands that really had a lot to do with Las Vegas being known as the entertainment capital of the world,” Nave said. “The event will also be the opening of the special exhibit on the Copa Room and the Sands that the museum is putting together.”

Plans for the exhibit reception include free food and a performance by the Thurston Howlies.

The October event is free, but reservations are required by calling 702-822-8735.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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