A helping hand across the Red Carpet



The spotlight of the Academy Awards will shine a little closer to home once again this year.

And the glitz and glamour of Hollywood will benefit a good cause in Connecticut.

On Feb. 24, the annual Red Carpet Experience will be held to support AIDS Connecticut, which states its mission as “[ensuring] that all people impacted by HIV/AIDS and related health issues have access to health, housing and support services.”

The event includes a VIP reception, red carpet interviews, a fashion show, and food prepared by local restaurants.

Some of the restaurants participating this year are: Bear’s Smokehouse BBQBistro on MainThe Capital GrilleFront Street BistroPeppercorns GrillThe Place 2 BePlan B Burger Bar, Simply Fresh Bistro, Starbucks, and Stella’s & Mazie’s.

“Guests can mingle with local celebrities, walk the red carpet, pose for glamour shots, get makeup and hair touchups in the Glam room, or relax in the theater and let the show begin,” said Wendy Shea Graveley, the director of development for AIDS Connecticut.

This year’s installment of the Red Carpet Experience represents the continuing evolution of the fund raiser, said Graveley.

“Red Carpet Experience Hartford was informally started by Colin McEnroe and Peter Shapiro back in the early ’90’s in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and in an attempt to raise funds and awareness about HIV/AIDS and the work that ACT – formerly CARC — was doing to help people in the Hartford area who were in need,” said Graveley.

“The event has grown from the first year – under 100 attendees– to over 450 supporters and guests,” said Graveley.

Graveley said the event will offer some changes – for the better – in 2019.

“We have many exciting surprises this year – so they must remain a secret,” said Graveley. “But we will dazzle you with the incredible food and fashions, the online auction with new software, and the specialty drink [of the night].”

Oscars night and helping those with HIV and AIDS are a natural fit, said Graveley.

“Many influential Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga and Bono are committed to wiping out HIV/AIDS and in raising awareness and funds for this worldwide epidemic,” said Graveley. “They are passionate about the fight against HIV/AIDS and understand that the disease disproportionately affects minorities and the LGBT community.”

And since it is Oscars nights, what are Graveley’s preferences for Best Motion Picture?

(The nominations were announced after Graveley and others were interviewed. The nominees are: “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born,” and “Vice.”)

Graveley said, she gravitated toward “Roma,” “Beautiful Boy,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“I loved all three movies,” said Graveley. “And although ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was poignant and clearly relevant to ACT as Freddie Mercury died at 45 of AIDS-related complications and reminds us of the tragedy of AIDS and of the unspeakable loss, ‘Roma’ is my personal pick. ‘Roma’ was brilliantly filmed… and left me startled, yet meditative. It’s one of those movies where it ends and you look up, not knowing where you are, where you’ve been – or exactly what you’ve just seen — a celestial experience that doesn’t happen often.”

Alex Zarlengo, a professional dancer and model as well as a fashion and lifestyle guru – is teaming up with Carolyn Paine, the founder of CONNetic Dance and a regular guest on WNPR, to host the Red Carpet Experience.

For his best picture pick, Zarlengo said, “My personal pick for best film is ‘Mary, Queen of Scots.'”

As for Paine? “Thanks to being a regular on Colin McEnroe’s ‘The Nose on WNPR,’ I actually end up having to see a lot of movies I otherwise probably wouldn’t see.”

“I think it will actually be a superhero or rock star movie with either ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ or ‘A Star is Born’ [winning].”

“But I never guess this right.”

“Though,” Paine added, “I can tell you for certain, Lady Gaga will wear something amazing.”

The Red Carpet Experience will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at Spotlight Theatres, 39 Front St., Hartford. Guests will watch the Academy Awards telecast courtesy of WTNH, which broadcasts the Academy Awards presentation.

Tickets are $50 for general admission and $100 for VIP, which includes a reception from 6 to 7 p.m. After Feb. 10, tickets are $55 for general admission and $110 for VIP.

For Red Carpet Experience information, visit aids-ct.org

Mary Ellen Fillo, left, interviews Carolyn Paine, center, and Alex Zarlengo. Paine and Zarlengo were last year’s hosts for the Red Carpet Experience, a fundraiser for AIDS Connecticut. The duo return as hosts for this year’s event.