Maria Venuti celebrated her BIG 70th birthday on the 13th of March in opulence and elegance – with a hint of cheekiness!
The 450 guests arrived at Doltone House, Pyrmont for Venuti La Vita with Variety, the Childrens Charity on an evening of perfect weather and stunning city backdrop. With a red theme for the party, the guests were greeted with the Maria Venuti signature Campari red cocktails with either blood orange or POM Wonderful Juice, Yellowglen Sparkling, De Bortolli wines and canapés to enjoy before the life of the party arrived.
But how on earth does a person with 50 years of entertainment experience and an exuberant personality arrive with a grand entrance? In a Carabinieri (Italian Police Car) of course! Sirens blazing, as the car came speeding down the wharf. The guests in amazement and hysterics as the larger then life Maria Venuti is escorted from the car by Dancing With The Stars dancer, Carmelo Pizzino.
Covered head to toe in red sequins, feathers and diamantes, Carmelo and his Dancing With The Stars friends liven up the mood while dancing and posing around Maria, as she waves to the guests, smiles for photos and sprawls herself over the Carabinieri.
“Welcome to my boudoir” Maria said to the guests, inviting them inside the absolutely breathtaking red and black room, suitable for a King and Queen, complete with chandeliers, candelabras and a red baby grand piano on stage. With table settings fit for royal guests, chocolate gift boxes from Dolci D’oro and platters of Adriano Zumbo macaroons are waiting to be enjoyed.
To the back corner of the room, stylist and emcee for the night Glenn T created a phenomenal display of Maria’s dresses, right back from the start of her career – it was like stepping into the museum of a drag queen! Feathers, sequins and diamantes splashed around all over the place. Outrageous outfits and colour, colour, colour!
With some of Australia’s biggest names in entertainment, politics and business – the stars came out to play and celebrate a fabulous 50 years of entertainment and 70 years of life with Maria. Some of the guests included Alan Jones AO, Michael Caton, Barry Crocker, Vince Sorrenti, Trevor Ashley, John Foreman, Peter Everett and Susie Elelman just to name a few.
Glenn T, the emcee for the night conducted himself in nothing but a 10 out of 10 manner, with class, humour and nothing but love and admiration for Maria.
Maria started off the evening, in a fabulous gold number with “Let’s Get My Party Started” and the jazz classic, “Almost Like Being In Love”… To finish off with an emotional standing ovation.
To continue on with the night entertainment was the wonderful John Paul Young singing his world famous 1978 track “Love Is In The Air”. Getting the room intimate and in the mood, all of the guests young and old got into it – every person in the room had a smile from ear to ear.
Three chefs chosen from three of Maria’s favourite Italian restaurants, each course was specifically designed for the 450 guests. To start off the Italian culinary feast, the gorgeous entrée is served. Luca Ciano, executive chef of Casa Barilla whips up Orecchiette pasta with goat ragu, chestnuts and baked ricotta. Delicious! Both Michael Yabsley and Alan Jones were sitting beside me and raved on about how delicious it was!
Alan Jones AO made an outstanding and heartfelt contribution to the evening, speaking beautifully about Maria’s life, about the book she recently launched and about the wonderful mark she has embedded in the entertainment industry and how Maria is a true Australian icon. And that she most certainly is.
Lucio Galletto of Lucio’s prepares the main, fish with cuttlefish and silverbeet. As this is being served, Carmelo and Alana from Dancing With The Stars dance for everybody.
The entertainment just doesn’t stop. It’s now time for Barry Crocker to get up and do his thing. Sounding tremendous, he brought Maria up on stage to sing with him – both creating a very special moment for all.
Vince Sorrenti. I am laughing as I write this. This man is a master at making people laugh. He had the room in stitches and there were tears running down faces from being in hysterics. He is a very funny man, with alot to say and had every person in that room completely in the moment with him – including Maria laughing away at our table.
The sole purpose for Maria’s birthday is to raise money for the charity she has long been an ambassador for – Variety. Up came Variety Vice President Penny Docherty along with Glen Wheeler to do the auction and raffle which guests spent many dollars on buying tickets for and bidding. Thousands of dollars were raised, with several luxury packages including a trip to New Zealand and other goods such as a face lift from All Saints Cosmedical, Catherine Manuell designer luggage (won by John Foreman), 14 vouchers of Sydney’s best Italian restaurants, a Carla Zampatti dress, a John Serafino suit, Master/Slave shoes tickets to the Opera and Hairspray, products from Troy Thompson hairdressing, pearls from Nader Jewellers, a Rachel Gilbert dress, Fashion Identity company package, Chrissy L jewels, a couple of nights at The Cullen Hotel, Top3 by Design, Social Royalty, NathanPaul Swimwear (won by Vince Sorentti), V Club Gym membership a luxury Hunter Valley package plus much much more!
There is even an extra auction thrown in there by Glen – the chance to see Michael Caton from Packed to the Rafters sing to all 450 guests! Raising $700 for Variety, Michael sang “Volare”, an Italian love song. (Stay tuned for the footage!)
Dessert is served. Darren Simpson of La Scala on Jersey serves guests his divine pannacotta with whole figs stewed in Vin Santo. Perfect in taste and perfect in texture – I ate both my dessert, and Alan Jones’.
Everybody knows the event is coming to an end. But there is still a vital part missing. The cake.
Now this isn’t just any cake. This is a birthday cake so fabulous, so over the top, so Maria Venuti it’s not funny! Designed by Antony Bullimore from Planet Cake in Balmain, this magnificent 3 tier cake, each tier a different animal print, covered in diamantes, with stars and a diamante encrusted microphone protruding through the top of the cake! But wait, there has to be a candle right? Seventy candles to be exact! Maria blows out her candles and cuts the cake, with her astonishing daughter Bianca beside her, wearing an jaw-dropping Patrîcia Nascimento gown.
As cake is prepared for the guests (as if the dessert wasn’t enough!), there is yet another surprise in-store. Trevor Ashley who stars as Edna in musical ‘Hairspray‘ spent the remainder of the evening trying to upstage Maria, coming on in drag as Maria, with one of the most hilarious routines I’ve ever seen. This time, every single guest was laughing uncontrollably, with tears streaming down their faces.
It’s clear that Trevor Ashley has a close relationship with Maria as he was able to do mannerisms, voice pitches and other little Maria-isms perfectly. This was most certainly the highlight of the event, I’ve never laughed so much!
It has come to an end – a night that I had hoped would go on for much longer, but was over with in what seemed 30 minutes. A truly successful evening for both Maria and Variety. Glenn T gave Maria a gorgeous bunch of flowers from Merci Bouquet which were wrapped in leopard print. Maria said her thankyou’s and sang one final time with a medley of her favourite tunes, dedicating them to everyone that was there to share her special night.
The big band played a few songs to dance to, by this time people started to leave with their substantial gift bags in tow – containing pasta, pasta sauce and Grissinni from Barilla, Coast To Coast magazines, a bottle of Lindemans Pink Chardonnay, Cocolo Chocolates, Pukka Tea, vouchers for ParaMedical Skin Clinic, Master/Slave, Survivor Fitness and to top it off, a cute thankyou card from Maria with a cartoon of herself by Brett Willis Cartoons.
A magical night, a rollercoaster of emotions and a mutual love for a very special lady. I have no doubt Maria Venuti will never forget her night, as it was made for her and all about her.
Happy milestones Maria. Love Adrian xox