Banding together to aid residents - Benefit efforts pop-up everywhere

With the Conejo Valley reeling from the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks and the destructive force of the Woolsey and Hill fires, musicians, arts groups, restaurants and stores are coming together to help out. Here's a look at a few of the benefit events being planned:
Arsenal Comics: The Easy Evil record label will present a benefit concert for victims of the Woolsey fire and Borderline shooting at 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 17, at the comic book store, 2333 Michael Drive, Newbury Park. Admission is $5 at the door.
The store also plans to raffle off a weeklong badge to the 2019 San Diego Comic Con. Books, statues and other merchandise will be sold too. Raffle tickets are $15. Proceeds will go to the Ventura County Community Foundation. Call ( 805) 499- 6197 for information.
Nabu Wines: The winery at 2649 Townsgate Road, Westlake Village, will hold a benefit for Borderline victims from 1 to 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 25. Fleetwood Mac tribute band Twisted Gypsy will perform. The event will also have a raffle. Memorial T-shirts will be sold. Food from The Habit, Farm & Flame, Kona Ice and Chronic Tacos will be available. Call (805) 778-1100 or visit
REO Speedwagon: The band, known for hits like “Keep On Loving You,” plans to donate proceeds from its already scheduled Jan. 12 show at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks to the Ventura County Community Foundation. In the works is a second fundraising gig at the Kavli on Jan. 13; tickets could go on sale as early as today.
REO Speedwagon has deep local roots: singer Kevin Cronin, guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hill all live in the Conejo Valley.
“The REO family's prayers are with you all,” Cronin said on the group's Facebook page.
Sir, Please - a band featuring Cronin's sons Shane and Josh - will open both Kavli shows. The group played at the Borderline earlier this year.
For information on the Kavli concerts, call the T.O. Civic Arts Plaza at (805) 449-2787.
Originally appeared on Moorpark Ahorn. Reprinted with permission. For more updates of events and how you can help, visit

Activist Theater Company Launches Inaugural Season in support of Los Angeles Justice Fund

The Thursday Night Theater Club's inaugural season to begin with the morality play, “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller, to benefit families in the Los Angeles area.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA (August 14, 2018) - Activist theater group Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTheaterClub) opens its inaugural season with Arthur Miller's “A View from the Bridge” on August 23rd, at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The LA Justice Fund will receive a percentage of each ticket sold during the 10-week run.

“A View from the Bridge” tells the story of Italian-American dock workers in New York as they navigate the ethics of undocumented immigration and its repercussions while dealing with their sexuality in a new country where their lives were under scrutiny. Thursday Night Theater Club gives this play a new relevance in today's context of the global attitudes toward immigration policies (I.C.E.) and the conflicts over marriage equality.

When the play first appeared, it was viewed as a parable about McCarthyism. Eddie's ratting on Rodolpho to immigration authorities was the equivalent of “naming names.” Given such topicality, you might expect A View from the Bridge to be hopelessly dated. Just the opposite is true. After all, betrayal wasn't limited to the ‘50s. Nor was homophobia and the havoc it wreaks on a household and a community.” -- The Advocate, February 17, 1998

The season will continue with back-to-back plays by Mark SchultzAaron Sorkin, and more, while bringing new life to the classic morality play format. Artistic directors Alice L. Walker and Tom Vitorino founded Thursday Night Theater Club with the intention of bringing timely and timeless works to the Los Angeles area.

We want to showcase plays that get into that moldable part of you, that maybe make you question your assumptions--how you think about ethics and policy,” says Walker.

The company will donate a portion of each ticket sold to a relevant charitable organization based on the themes of each play performed. The Los Angeles Justice Fund, which provides legal support and counsel for immigrant families, will be the first recipient.

Walker continues, “There is fabulous theater in LA, but it isn't always accessible,” noting that ticket prices for live theater in the area can be a barrier. “We're performing every Thursday. When you leave, we want you to think ‘Yeah, this is something I can do', and then we'll see you again 10 weeks later.”

Tickets are now on sale starting at $20 at The production opens August 23rd, and plays on Thursday nights through October 25th at El Portal Theatre: 5269 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood.

Robyn Cohen (“The Life Aquatic”, James Franco's Studio 4) is directing “A View from the Bridge”. Tom Vitorino, Alice L. Walker, and Samantha Jo star. They are joined by Mark Morante, Jack Menzies, Robin Roth, Julisa Gonzalez, and Jeremy Falla, Guy Nardulli, and Zack Sayenko.  (More info on the cast can be found here:


Established in 2018 as an artistic response to social injustice, Thursday Night Theater Club's mission is to ferociously explore morality plays that toy with ethics, law, and social constructs, while taking an active role in the local community. Co-artistic directors, Alice L. Walker and Tom Vitorino, helm the endeavor with a passion for exploring the human experience, no matter the medium. The company performs Thursdays at the intimate El Portal Theater, one of Los Angeles's most beautiful historic spaces.

For more information & tickets:

Launched in 2017, the L.A. Justice Fund has granted $7.4 million to increase access to legal representation and counsel to individuals and families dealing with deportation and removal proceedings in Los Angeles County. The Fund seeks to reinforce a safety net that is pro-family, pro-economic growth, and pro-civil and human rights. The L.A. Justice Fund is a partnership with Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation and the California Community Foundation (CCF). Cities across the country have duplicated this innovative cross-sector approach.  For more information:

Michael-Leon Wooley & Friends Again Singing for Suppers in the October 14th BTTR Benefit

Actor/singer/activist Michael-Leon Wooley will be gathering his Broadway cohorts and presenting their collective musical theatre talents in his fourth benefit for Hope of the ValleyBROADWAY TO THE RESCUE: A BENEFIT FOR THE HOMELESS.  This one-night event October 14, 2017 at the Montalban Theater will feature multi-credited Broadway and Los Angeles performers, including Tony Award-winner Lillias White, Tony nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon McKnight, Drama Desk winner Aaron Lazar, and more yet to be announced.
The eternally busy Michael-Leon carved out some time from the current New York City project he's involved in to answer in-depth my probing inquiries.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Michael-Leon!
BROADWAY TO THE RESCUE: A BENEFIT FOR THE HOMELESS benefiting Hope of the Valley is your brainchild. What initially brought you and Hope of the Valley together?
It started a couple of years ago after the death of someone really close to me. A friend was diagnosed with a horrible brain tumor, that took him eight weeks after diagnosis. I had a difficult time bouncing back, and despite a successful career, was feeling a bit lost. Someone suggested that since my friend was an advocate for the homeless, why didn't I do something for the homeless too. So I googled “homeless" and “volunteer.” Hope of the Valley was the first thing to come up. I contacted them and they said, "Come down and help serve lunch at the Mission." So I went. And after a few weeks, I realized how incredible they were, and was blown away by their extraordinary, tireless work with the homeless. I asked them one day what they did for fundraisers. They told me a guy once came and sang some songs and it was great. And I said, "Let me help you out," and came clean for the first time about my career and what I've done. I put together a small benefit at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood, called my Broadway friends in L.A., and we sang and blew the roof off the place. It was a great night and we raised about $3,000 and have only grown since. Now, headed into our fourth show, we've raised about $100,000 in under two years, and hope to do more. My work with Hope Valley is what I'm most proud of these days, even more than anything in my career. And I was honored a couple of weeks ago when asked to join Hope of the Valley's Board of Directors. Awful long way from serving lunches. Oh, I said, "Yes."
Heading into your fourth show, this one-nighter at the Montalban Theater, what challenges of your first event have you mastered now in putting together this fourth show?
Well, it's funny. As we master some things, as the show grows; we learn there's new things to master. Getting sponsors is part of the job. Picking the right date and venue. We are always a little behind, but we never worry about the show.  We have no doubt that that part comes together. These performers are such pros and at the top of their game, they all have a fearlessness when it comes to it. And that's been a very cool byproduct of BTTR. We've had to assemble a huge ensemble to flesh out the show and some big numbers. Young performers from around Los Angeles, they call our show 'Broadway Bootcamp.' In rehearsal, they are asked to step up in a big way. We move at a quick pace. The Broadway vets are bringing it, and they have to bring it too. It takes a lot of courage and work to be toe-to-toe with everyone on stage… and they do it in spades!!!
Will there be a theme threading through this show? 
Well, we've had different themes in the past. Disney, Christmas, gospel. But this time we're going back to our roots. Most of the performances October 14th are numbers that these performers actually did on Broadway! A lot you'll never see anywhere else but here. Some are flying in from NYC, some are taking time from their TV and film work to revisit their Broadway performances.
Lillias White is singing from THE LIFE, the song that got her a Tony Award. Tony nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon White are doing their numbers. Not to mention songs from HAIRSPRAY, WICKED, RENT, CATS, A CHORUS LINE, MEMPHIS, HAIR and more! I get all excited just talking about it!
Who gets to pick the song selections? 
That job falls on me. And it is my favorite part of the process. And though I started BTTR by myself, the amazing Kymberli McKanna came on board as another producer. She's always great about bringing to mind a show or a song I would never have thought of. I end up listening to a lot of Broadway stations on Sirius and Spotify. And it's kinda cool when a number pops up of me singing.

Do you know what you'll be performing? Or is that a secret/surprise?

Not sure yet, I sometimes think I'd just like to host the show and put it together. But I would get my head handed to me on a platter if I didn't do something. I have an idea for this show. It should be real fun.
As one who's performed in cabarets and piano bars in both New York and L.A., how would you differentiate the New York audiences from L.A. patrons? Differences can't be subtle, right?
Well, I think audiences in general are all just out to have a good time. I think before the curtain rises, whether in NYC or L.A. or Kalamazoo, everyone is hoping for a thrilling experience. Though that doesn't always happen, that's what we're all rooting for. I had as much fun at HAMILTON at the Pantages as I did at LEGALLY BLONDE at the Cupcake Theatre, a small theatre in the NOHO arts district. Before the curtain rises on any show, I'm like, "C'mon guys! Bring it!!!"
I will say the biggest compliment I get from BTTR is "Wow, I feel like I'm in New York!!!" That always is a homerun to me!
You started playing piano when you were just five years old. Did you twin brother Marcus-Leon share your love for the keys?
LOL. My Marcus can't really carry a tune. (Thank god! One singer per family, please!) BUT funny thing. He works with computers for a living. He is as talented on the keyboard of a computer as I am on the keyboard of a piano.
I read in your bio that you auditioned 107 times before landing your first role in the national tour company of PURLIE. Which of those 107 auditions was the most nerve-wrecking? The 105th? The 1st? The 106th?
HA, HA! They all were nerve-wrecking. I always hated dance calls. Sometimes auditions are way too early. Sometimes my songs were way too high. And sometimes, I'd go home with my tail between my legs. But I'm grateful for all those auditions 'cause they taught me how to audition, what works, what doesn't, what to do, what not to do. I love walking in to audition for a musical these days. I go in with a 'take no prisoners' agenda and a 'make new friends' attitude. (And I really hope everyone in the waiting room, up for my job, gets to hear me.) LOL!!!!
Would you share some fun stories of working with the genius Susan Stroman in the 2000 Broadway revival of THE MUSIC MAN
I love Stro (as we call her). When I first got a call asking me to audition for MUSIC MAN, I didn't think they really wanted me. There weren't many roles for a 6'4 black man in that show as far as I can see, HA!!!! But they couldn't find the bass sound they were looking for (for the barbershop quartet) and came around to ask me again. They'd already cast the other members of the quartet (Blake Hammond, John Sloman, and Jack Doyle), and they were looking for the right bass. I'll never forget going in that day. I had just closed a Broadway show the night before. I learned the song "Lida Rose" and had to sing it with the guys. It was a pretty exciting moment. We sounded like a match made in heaven and I'll never forget the look on Broadway musical director David Chase's face when we first started singing. They all spoke at the table for a bit. Then Stro came up to me and said, "Welcome to River City!” Hired me right in the room. I was so excited to land another Broadway show the day after one closes. (We always think we're never gonna work again. LOL!) I hugged her and picked her up in the air. To this day when I see her, I still hug her and always pick her up in the air.
DREAMGIRLS (both the stage musical and the movie) is a top musical favorite of mine. In the film, you sang "Take the Long Way Home" as Tiny Joe Dixon. Tell us some of your memorable moments working with director Bill Condon and the “up-and-coming” actresses who played Deena, Lorrell and Effie.
Well, Bill, he's amazing, the nicest, the sweetest, the best. It was my first movie and he made me feel right at home. When I first saw Beyoncé, my first thought was, "Damn! That is the most beautiful person I've ever seen in my life, even in a robe with her hair in curlers. She was as sweet as can be. Jennifer (Hudson) and I, for both of us, it was our first film, and felt a bit like newbies. I knew she was going to get an Oscar. The role's just built that way. And Anika (Noni Rose), we met on the first day of shooting. She's from Broadway, so we hit it off right away - having a bunch of mutual friends. We're still really good friends and she comes over to my house for parties and dinners. And I love the fact that we got to star in a movie together, the Disney animated movie The Princess and The Frog. Anika as the princess and me as Louis the alligator. We're both so proud of that film. She's been dying to be a part of BTTR, but has had work conflicts. But I'm gonna get her!

Which do you prefer: Getting immediate response from a live audience, emoting in front of a camera or sitting on a stool in front of a script with headsets on? 
I love my voice-over work; last Friday I was working on a cartoon. Working on a few episodes of Bravest Warriors. And my character had over 100 lines in this session that would be a few hours. A moment well into the second hour of a long day, I was trying to stifle something that kept making me laugh so hard, I had to do a number of takes. I had to smile for a moment, my life is pretty cool. Being in front of the camera is great. I love it, but nothing beats a live audience. Laughter, screaming, applause, cheering and standing. It's all addictive. And though this career is hard and demanding and challenging, it's so worth, it's when, like October 14, well...
You know, sometimes I stand in my kitchen and cook fried chicken because it sounds like applause, and go, "Thank you, thank you! I love you! Thank you!"
How soon do you start planning your fifth BROADWAY TO THE RESCUE: A BENEFIT FOR THE HOMELESS?
HA! Well, I'm thinking about it a little now (and I shouldn't), but chances are talks will begin at the cast party for this show. Always happens that way after people have a few drinks.
Can you give us a hint as to what kind of craziness the Montalban Theater audience can expect October 14th?
Well, there are a few performances that I may go out in the audience and watch. Aside from numbers from WAITRESS and AVENUE Q that are thrilling, SMOKEY JOE'S, WICKED, HAIRPSRAY, MEMPHIS numbers are sure to stop the show. And Lillias White will blow the roof off the place. Every single performance is a tour de force, not a weak link in the bunch.
Thank you again, Michael-Leon!
Any time, see ya on the 14th.
For available tickets for this October 14th fundraiser (including a silent auction and a champagne and dessert reception), log onto
For more information on the work that Hope of the Valley continues to do, or to make a donation to them, log onto