[dropcap]L[/dropcap]as Vegas for the New Year—and why not?! Miss Ruby’s not a gambler, but hey, there’s more to do in this electric town than toss dice and feed one-armed bandits.
After speaking this morning at the Nevada AIDS Project on “HIV and Travel” (Dennis Dunn, executive director, who founded the organization in 2005, is a gem), I embark on the Papillion helicopter to the Grand Canyon. What a treat to fly over the booming Las Vegas strip, the imposing Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead. First we sail over miles and miles of desert, then unexpectedly, as we soar over an embankment the brilliance of the Grand Canyon appears before our eyes. Jaw-dropping.
On board the chopper, I become acquainted with a fellow passenger, Brooke Moriber. An actor and singer-songwriter, she just performed with her band in Los Angeles. Her dynamic pipes have been compared to Linda Ronstadt (her favorite singer) and Katy Perry, and she can unequivocally belt out pop tunes and rock with equal zest. Miss M has been on stage since the age of eight when she was cast for the role of Young Cosette in Broadway’s Les Miserables. She’s a Broadway veteran, having chalked up seven productions! With her seductive come-hither looks, the blonde bombshell has also appeared on television and in film. Last August she released her debut album, Fire.
Brooke, a native New Yorker, has been a part of the theater community most of her life, having been active in raising awareness and collecting funds for Broadway Cares. She’s also participated in two AIDS Walks. Like many of us, she’s lost friends from this disease.
After our Papillion excursion, Brooke and I head to my King Stay Well room at the MGM Grand where
you’re lavished with purified air, vitamin C-infused shower, energized lighting, aromatherapy, and more. You’re treated like a star! Take note my chums, MGM is an active supporter of human rights, and serves as presenting sponsor of the Southern Nevada Pride Parade and Festival that encompasses nonprofit organizations, including education and HIV and AIDS outreach.
Brooke and I huddle together on the petite sofa, legs propped up on a coffee table, and sip a 2011 Cabernet. From our picture window we watch the take-offs and landings at the Las Vegas airport.
Ruby Comer: How calming the night sky looks, with those twinklin’ stars and those foreboding mountains in the background. (We both sigh as if to say, This is the life.) So tell me, girl, how do you pronounce your last name and what is the origin?
Brooke Sunny Moriber: More-ah-burr. We don’t know much about my dad’s side of the family but we believe it’s French like Morbier cheese. [She chuckles.]
And from where does “Sunny” originate?
My grandpa on my mom’s side passed away right before I was born. His name was Bernard “Sonny.” I was named after him but with a “u” since I’m a girl. People in my family still talk about him. He was a great man and I wish I could have met him.
Oh sweet. I lost my grandpa Clifford early on too. You mentioned before that you had a neighbor who died of AIDS.
Yes, Richard Stack was my neighbor and he fought a very long and brave battle. He always smiled, despite the odds. He was a member of the theater community and he ran The Actors Fund AIDS Initiative in the late eighties. The Actors Fund helped him pay rent, some living expenses, and all of his medical expenses until he passed away. He was a sweet and inspiring man. He died at seventy-two.
What a lovely guy Richard must have been, and too young to go….
Yes he was Ruby [she looks off, reminiscing]. The impact that the epidemic has had for me is learning to live with fear for my friends and family. I know too many people who’ve been either directly or indirectly affected by the disease.
By the by, do you remember when you first heard about AIDS?
It was in elementary school. They discussed it with us at a very early age. I went to school in Greenwich Village where they were very open minded about discussing with children the dangers of unprotected sex and I am very thankful for that.
Kudos to the New York City school district! I know you’ve been a part of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for many years. Tell me, have you partaken in all their annual events?
I have yet to participate in Broadway Bares though I look forward to it in the future. I hear it’s a ton of fun. I feel so deeply connected to this organization….
Are you close to any other cause?
I’ve been active with City Harvest [feeding the hungry]. I would also like to get involved with animal rights organizations. I’m a huge animal lover. I adopted a lop-eared bunny rabbit this year who has completely stolen my heart.
Awww, what’s its name?
Sherlock—and he’s popular on my Instagram!
And you are Watson?! [She guffaws.] What motivates you to give, Miss M?
It makes me feel alive to help people. It’s part of being a human being. There’s so much meanness in the world, and with reality TV we seem to be obsessed with survival of the fittest. Giving is an opportunity to practice kindness in a harsh society.
Well said. Life is absolutely a challenge. Have you ever written a song about HIV?
“Fire,” the title song for my EP, is about finding strength within the challenges that life throws at us. We all face obstacles; it’s how we adapt to them that make us who we are. While I have not written a specific song about HIV, I do hope that “Fire” can be inspirational to anyone who feels beaten down by illness of any sort.
I love that song Brooke! Say, what was the first Broadway show you ever saw?
[She reflects, holding the wine goblet in her hands, casting a lingering glance into it.] You know, it may have been Cats.
A…classic…musical. You’ve worked with some greats. Let’s play a game. I mean, we are in Vegas! Pick one animal to describe these
people. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
An English Lop rabbit.
A big bad wolf.
A cool cat.
As Henry Higgins would say, “By jove, I think she’s got it!” You’re good at this, girl. You win the Daily Double for the day!
Maybe we can play again, as I’m returning to Los Angeles. I’ll be recording at Pulse Records.
Sounds like a plan, Brooke. I enjoy your spontaneity. Would you like to put a topper on our talk tonight?
Indeed, Ruby! I hope people keep fighting for continued research. There may be more treatment options now but there’s still no cure…[she pauses for a deep breath then boldly ends] and AIDS can still be deadly.
Bridge over to Brooke: www.brookemoriber.com.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at MsRubyComer@aol.com.