Monday’s Dark, a Las Vegas charity force, turns 5

Updated December 15, 2018 - 2:00 pm

We owe it all to Lonny.

Lonny was a character in “Rock of Ages,” the ’80s musical that opened for previews at The Venetian in December 2012. Mark Shunock, a largely unknown stage actor who had most recently lived in L.A., portrayed Lonny. The clownish lackey helped run the show’s Sunset Strip rock club. He sported a mullet and T-shirts with juvenile, giggle-worthy messages.

Nothing about Lonny screamed “community leader.”

But there was more to the man beneath the mullet. Outside the stage show, Shunock immediately displayed his tireless hustle and philanthropic passion for his new hometown. On the night of “Rock of Ages’ ” preview opening, during an informal summit at the since-closed Bourbon Room, he outlined a plan for Mondays Dark.

Shunock specifically described a regular charity show, laden with the city’s best talent and adhering to a different musical theme each night — country to Queen, Madonna to Motown. The musical-theater vet also talked of a yet-to-be-developed venue off the Strip, where these shows (and many others) would be staged. Shunock’s home court, as it were.

‘You can get things done here’

The ringleader of this remarkable project looks back on those days and says, “I didn’t know how much philanthropy was going on in Las Vegas. I think it just stems from the fact that Vegas is a great place, where if you have hustle and drive and determination and a great idea, whether it’s on the philanthropy side or the straight-up Business 101 side, you can get things done here.”

Five years on, Shunock has reinforced that tenet. The idea Shunock hatched that night is a festive, and frequently rowdy, night of music and philanthropy at The Space at 3460 Cavaretta Court. Mondays Dark celebrates its fifth anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The show is expected to sell out the 2,000-seat venue, though tickets do remain on the Mondays Dark website.

Representatives of charities honored over the past year will return for the event, and next year’s charities — led by Discovery Children’s Museum in January — will be unveiled.

The anniversary show is traditionally moved to The Joint, and appropriately so. Mondays Dark opened at the hotel’s Body English nightclub (now Magic Mike Theater, where Shunock also appears in “Magic Mike Live”) in November 2013. Shunock had booked the Act venue at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, only to have the event undercut when the club closed. He moved to Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel while securing a lease at a warehouse on Cavaretta Court that has been turned into The Space.

The venue bustles with ticketed shows in two performance spaces — the main, 300-seat room and an 80-seat enclave called The Back Space. Such performers as “Jersey Boys” film and stage star John Lloyd Young and Broadway performer Alice Ripley, both Tony Award winners, have headlined The Space. Shunock’s wife and stage performer Cheryl Daro has produced all-star shows in the smaller venue under the Stage Door Cabaret umbrella.

21 shows, 21 nonprofits

But the venue’s anchor is Mondays Dark, where Shunock, a former youth hockey player from his original hometown of Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario, Canada, secures the charities and hosts the shows. The Mondays Dark template has been to fill the room at $20 a shot for GA seating, $50 for VIP, and adding silent auctions and other fundraising triggers (such as offering an onstage “Cow Bell Jam” for $100, and live raffle of donated items in a Mondays Dark treasure chest).

The goal is to raise $10,000 at each show. But simple arithmetic shows that’s not always possible, with ticket sales topping out at about $6,000. Rather, Shunock says, “We have a system in place that almost ensures it. Sometimes we don’t raise all of the money, but through my sponsors and other capital that we bring in, we guarantee the $10K. It’s done through ticket sales, silent auction and some goofy games we play and things that I do from the stage.”

One of the earliest Mondays Dark charity partners was himself a philanthropic leader in Las Vegas. Jeff Leibow, a former member of “Jersey Boys” and founder of the NF Hope Concert for neurofibromatosis, most recently held at Palazzo Theater, has also performed in Mondays Dark.

“Mark now has a long line of charities who want to be part of Mondays Dark, and he has a built-in crowd that he didn’t have when he started,” says Leibow whose NF Network was featured in May 2014. “It’s just grown in support and I’m sure that he’s hitting his goals consistently, and I’d like to be back as kind of a legacy charity, absolutely.”

Nonetheless, Shunock has so many organizations awaiting a turn with Mondays Dark, he doesn’t repeat charities. He counts 150 charities on the Mondays Dark extended waiting list. He showcases 21 per year.

Mondays Dark is on pace to eclipse $1 million next year in money raised since its launch. Beyond the monetary support, charities (21 annually in all) benefit from a central event where officials and volunteers can network and develop invaluable contacts.

“Mondays Dark heightens brand awareness. You’re with a staple of the community who is well-known and has a great reputation, and that raises awareness for our critical needs, which in our case is affordable housing,” says Habitat for Humanity CEO Doug Coombs, who has also partnered with Mondays Dark in his days as an official with Olive Crest.

An artists’ hang

In a city where finding a steady gig is increasingly challenging, artists have leapt at the chance to perform at Mondays Dark. Jassen Allen and Kenny Davidsen have seen their presence grow in Las Vegas because of their regular appearances on the MD stage.

“It’s my entertainment home,” says Allen, a stage performer who effectively banters with Shunock onstage. “I started as a backup singer when Skye Dee Miles hosted a show about 3½ years ago. I was just trying to get my name out, and now it’s something I can’t imagine not doing.”

Davidsen, a fixture at Don’t Tell Mama on Fremont East and at the Tuscany, started as Shunock’s music director in April 2014.

“I love doing it, I really do,” Davidsen says. “We get to be in front of all these people, we goof off, we have a great band, we’re doing something for a good cause. It’s a great feeling.”

‘An adult variety show’

Aside from the themed music performances, Shunock delivers a primarily improv comedy act as the emcee. Though the show is technically all-ages, with such charities as Positively Arts in the room, Shunock’s shtick is some salty stuff. Often, he unloads an F-bomb in his first sentence. Shunock also zeroes in on such neighborhood targets as Wild Wild West, often claiming that one of the raffle prizes is a three-night stay at the Station Casinos property, and Sophia’s Gentlemen’s Club.

“Sometimes I’m more concerned with me sticking my foot in my mouth and saying something that isn’t appropriate for a particular group,” Shunock says. “But what’s nice now is that Mondays Dark has become somewhat popular within the charity world here locally that most of them who reach out to get on our list know what it’s about before we even respond.

“We make sure that they are aware of what we’re doing. We let them know ahead of time that this is an adult variety show where anything goes and it’s very off the cuff.”

It’s a very late-night, Las Vegas hang, where Shunock’s old friend Lonny would have a blast.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

John Katsilometes writes a column that runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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