Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kenny Ortega and Abel Ramirez To Be Honored At Diversity Project Fundraising Benefit

The Pasadena Playhouse (Sheldon Epps, Artistic Director) announced today that legendary director, choreographer and producer Kenny Ortega will be the 2015 Diversity Award Artistic Honoree, and Abel Ramirez, founder of Pasadena’s El Portal Restaurant and business and cultural leader of the Pasadena community, will be the Community Honoree at the 9th Annual Pasadena Playhouse’s Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Project fundraising benefit on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in honor of the opening of Josefina López’s Real Women Have Curves

Sheldon Epps, Artistic Director of The Pasadena Playhouse, says, "Kenny Ortega is a true Renaissance Man of the entertainment world.  He is a great artist who also cares deeply for artists and their development.  His work has touched so many around the world in a number of ways and inspired us all.  It is our great pleasure to honor him at this year's Diversity Event and to recognize his extraordinary achievements as an entertainer and a great humanitarian.  Our celebration is all about those who have used the arts to overcome challenges to achieve great success.  That being the case, Kenny is an ideal honoree!”

Raphael Henderson, Theatrical Diversity Benefit Chair, says, “It is truly an honor indeed to recognize Abel for his commitment to growth and cultural awareness for our community.  I am personally excited to pay homage to someone who means so much to us all, in fact, he owes me for two months membership to my gym as a result of his insanely delicious food.

Kenny Ortega’s work as a director, choreographer and producer is known and loved by millions around the world.  In the 1980s, he became known for his stage direction and choreography of the A&M pioneer recording artists, The Tubes. It was a Tubes performance in Los Angeles that caught the attention of Cher who asked Ortega to choreograph her television special. Soon, Ortega became the most sought after choreographer for the industry's biggest musical artists, including Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, KISS, Gloria Estefan, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, and The Pointer Sisters, to name a few.

When Ortega made the transition from stage choreography to film choreography, he had the honor of working with the legendary Gene Kelly on the feature film "Xanadu" and then again on Francis Ford Coppola's "One From the Heart." Ortega’s film choreography includes "Dirty Dancing," “St. Elmo’s Fire”, and following his work with John Hughes on  "Pretty in Pink,” Hughes made him the 2nd Unit Director of the classic parade sequence in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” This entered Ortega into the DGA and began his directing career. In the 1990’s, Ortega directed the musical film “Newsies,” starring Christian Bale, Robert Duvall, and Ann Margaret and feature film “Hocus Pocus,” starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, for the Walt Disney Company.

Ortega directed many television series during the 80’s and 90’s. In 2006, he directed Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” and “High School Musical 2” which were both the most successful Disney Channel Original Movies to date when they premiered. “High School Musical 2” drew over 17 million viewers when it premiered making it the most watched program in cable telecast history, a record it still holds today. Together “High School Musical” 1 and 2 have been seen by over 250 million people worldwide and both movies have broken numerous sales records for their soundtracks and DVDs.  Ortega received a DGA and another Emmy win for choreography.  He is also the supervising producer for both of the movie’s multi-platinum soundtracks. 

“High School Musical” also spawned a three-company international touring ice show of which Kenny was Supervising Producer, as well as the Director of the National Arena Tour and International Stadium Tours. In fall of 2007, Kenny directed the fastest-selling concert tour in history, the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus “Best of Both Worlds Tour” featuring The Jonas Bros.  In 2008 Kenny directed and executive produced “High School Musical 3: Senior Year (HSM 3)” for Walt Disney Motion Pictures. “HSM 3” was the biggest theatrical box office opening for a musical in history. 

In network television, two of Ortega’s Emmy wins were for his work directing and choreographing the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics Opening and ClosingCeremonies. Ortega has collaborated on numerous theatrical and large-scale outdoor spectacles, including two Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, three Super Bowl half-time shows and the Chicago World Cup Opening Ceremonies. In the summer of 2007 he directed and choreographed Hugh Jackman in the record-breaking “The Boy From Oz Arena Tour” in Australia, where he won the Helpmann Award, the Australian equivalent of the Tony for his work as choreographer. Kenny also collaborated with and directed Barbra Streisand’s Millennium Tour.

As a director, Ortega has extensive credits in episodic television including “Chicago Hope”, "Ally McBeal”, "Gilmore Girls”, “Bunheads”, and “Grounded for Life” which garnered him an additional Emmy nomination. 

In Las Vegas, Ortega was the artistic director for "The Lake of Dreams" at the Wynn Hotel. He also co-produced the grand openings of the Wynn, Encore, Bellagio and Wynn Macau (China hotels) with Steve and Elaine Wynn.  Ortega designed the original choreography for the Fountains of Bellagio at the Bellagio Hotel, as well as several other productions at various resort properties over the years including Siegfried and Roy, Diana Ross, Gloria Estefan, and Cher.
Kenny Ortega was Michael Jackson’s director and creative partner for “Dangerous”, “HIStory”, and “This Is It” World Tours. Following Jackson’s untimely passing, Kenny directed the documentary “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”.

Ortega collaborated on the staging of The Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary Tour and has founded his new production company, 5678: A Kenny Ortega Company. Kenny Ortega and his 5678 productions is currently involved in the development of new content for stage, internet, television, and film.

In 2014, Ortega directed and produced along with his longtime friend and associate Emilio Estefan, “A Change of Heart”, an independent feature shot on location in South Florida. The film stars Jim Belushi, Virginia Madsen, Kathy Najimy, William Levy, and Gloria Estefan. Ortega executive produced, directed, and choreographed the action adventure original movie “Disney’s Descendants” premiered on the Disney Channel July 31, 2015. Currently, he is Executive Producing, along with Campanario, a Spanish-language series for the Latino market entitled “Bandolero” and has been set to direct “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and produce with Lou Adler and Gail Berman for a Fox Network movie for television event to premiere in the fall of 2016.

Ortega has been the recipient of three Emmy Awards, back to back nominations and a DGA Award from the Director’s Guild of America, Fred & Adele Astaire’s annual Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award, Bob Fosse Award, an American Choreography Lifetime Achievement Award, MTV Video Music Award, American Music Award, ALMA Award, Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, Imagen Creative Achievement Award, NAACP Award, as well as a number of others.

For his philanthropic work, Ortega has had the honor of receiving the St. Jude’s Pioneer Award, the Make A Wish Chris Greicius Celebrity Award, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Walt Disney’s Man of the Year Award. 

For over 35 years, Abel Ramirez has been a business and cultural leader of the Pasadena community, and an inspiration to thousands. His commitment to improving the city reaches far beyond being co-owner and CEO of El Portal Restaurant and founder of Yahaira’s Café and Vanessa’s Coffee House. He’s served on the boards of the Pasadena Playhouse, Hillsides Home for Children, Playhouse District Association, Foothill Vocational Services, Latino Heritage, L.A. Food Bank, as President of the Board at Pasadena Senior Center, and Tournament of Roses for more than 30 years.

Ramirez left his homeland of Yucatan, Mexico for the United States in 1964. For over 14 years he paid his dues in the restaurant industry by working his way up from dishwasher into various administrative roles at the Huntington Hotel. He eventually took on the role of general manager of Caltech’s Athenaeum for 17 years where he was also a member of the American Association of Private Clubs. His passion for food, family and community has guided his journey as an entrepreneur, husband, and father of three sons, Armando, Ricardo and Andres.

In 1995 Ramirez purchased El Portal Restaurant and created a family centered business with Rosalia, his wife of 45 years, and their son Armando. Theirs is a dynamic partnership where Rosalia trains the chefs in authentic Yucatan cuisine and manages the administrative operations for the three restaurants, and his son, Armando, is the general manager of El Portal.

The Theatrical Diversity Project has raised over a million dollars since its 2005 inception. These funds are used to support Playhouse Diversity Initiatives, The Pasadena Playhouse’s vision to build a legacy of artistic and theatrical diversity through eclectic programming, outreach and education programs, HOTHOUSE (The Playhouse new play development program), and continued efforts for expanded audience engagement. This year’s Diversity Project fundraising benefit will coincide with the theatre’s season openerJosefina López’s REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, directed by Associate Artistic Director, Seema Sueko.

·         The Diversity Project’s fundraising benefit will take place on Opening Night of REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, Sunday, September 13, 2015.
·       Pre‐show reception begins at 1:00 p.m. at El Portal restaurant located across the street from The Playhouse.
·         Curtain is at 3:00 p.m.
·         Post show party immediately following at Jacob Maarse next door to The Playhouse.
·         Patron Levels with benefits start at $1,000 for two tickets. 
·         Single tickets, which include the show and the post-party (pre‐reception not included), are $250. 

For more information about the Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Program, or to become a Patron of the 2015 Diversity Celebration, contact Mary Reitz, Events and Corporate Giving Manager, at (626) 204-7383 or 

REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES is set in a tiny sewing factory in East L.A. This award-winning comedy from acclaimed playwright Josefina López tells the story of five full-figured women racing to meet an impossible deadline to keep their sewing factory from going under. The basis for the award-winning film of the same name starring America Ferrera, REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES celebrates real bodies, life in southern California, and the incredible bond when women work together.

REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES plays September 8 through October 4 (press opening on Sunday, September 13).  The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.  The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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