Mark Shunock played lots of hockey as a teenager in Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario, Canada. He ascended through the youth ranks and finally to the Canadian Hockey League, the top youth organization in the country for players aged 16-20.
A goaltender throughout his youth career, Shunock was apt to play for really good teams. This made for a lot of idle time in the crease, where he learned to sing—in front of a crowd, even.
“I was usually at the end of the ice, all by myself, and you could hear my voice through the arena,” Shunock says during a coffee chat before performing as club manager/narrator Lonny in Rock of Ages at the Venetian. “I would be singing whatever the hits were at the time, and my coach would be yelling at me, ‘Save it for the stage!’ I’d say, ‘I’m just trying to stay focused, Coach!’”
These days, Shunock’s stage is portraying the pivotal character in ROA (which has no dates listed past January 3 and is expected to move to the Rio by the end of that month). It was evident from the beginning, when the show opened in December 2012, that the guy in the now-famous mullet wig and “Hooray for Boobies” T-shirt aspired to be more than a performer in a Strip production.
Even on the opening night of Rock of Ages, Shunock talked of this idea called Mondays Dark, a monthly gathering of entertainers who would perform for charity at a cabaret show and party. The event regularly sells out, and hits its target of raising $10,000 per month for rotating Las Vegas charities. As Shunock says, $250,000 has been raised, $20 at a time, 90 minutes at a time.
Mondays Dark will celebrate its second anniversary December 14 at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, just a few cartwheels from Vinyl, where it’s held the third Monday of each month. The show will benefit all 11 charities featured in the 2015 Mondays Dark series, and is expected to draw upward of 1,400 ticket-holders.
The format is a rollout of many of the performers who spiced Mondays Dark through the year, highlighted by Dave Amato of REO Speedwagon; Travis Cloer of Jersey Boys singing from his new holiday release, Christmas at My Place; Josh Strickland of Vegas! The Show; Golden Nugget headlining impressionist Gordie Brown; Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy founder and frontwoman Anne Martinez; Vegas rocker Rockie Brown, who just released her debut album Brand New Day; veteran stand-up Louie Anderson; For the Record: Baz’s Ginifer King; burlesque star LouLou D’Vil (a Miss Exotic World title-holder and swing for Claire Sinclair in Pin Up) with her nefarious husband, the Baron; Stephanie Calvert of Raiding the Rock Vault and Starship; fine-art specialist Jimmy Mulligan; Vegas singer Chadwick Johnson, a regular at the Italian American Club; and a “secret guest” to be announced.
As always, the acts are buoyed by the Kenny Davidsen-led backing band, and such unique elements as Robin Leach reading segments from “Missed Connections,” the personal-ad link on Craigslist.
This is the second consecutive Mondays Dark anniversary show to be held at the Joint, and it’s a realization of Shunock’s original vision to crystallize the philanthropic energy of Las Vegas. This concept was not new: It was similar to the types of shows Shunock assembled while living in LA at the end of his national tour of The Lion King. Those were called the Session Series and held at a bar called First and Hope, which has since closed. That was the seed for Mondays Dark in Las Vegas.
“What I noticed when we first started in Rock of Ages in Las Vegas is how many red carpets we were being asked to hit,” says Shunock, wearing a Mondays Dark ball cap. “Most of these were charity events, and I really got to thinking about a cabaret show for charity. It was just a matter of time to put it together.”
The idea of holding benefit shows in Las Vegas was like tossing a match into a gas can. The city has long been a haven for linking entertainment and charity—other noteworthy examples being the Power of Love galas benefitting the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children (which halted in 2011 when Agassi raised enough money to fund his Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy schools in perpetuity); and the Penn & Teller-led AFAN AIDS Walk and AFAN Black & White Party. Many of Shunock’s fellow entertainers, including former Jersey Boys cast member Jeff Leibow (NF Hope Concert) and Jeff Civillico (Win-Win Entertainment’s Headliners Bash) have founded charity productions that predate Mondays Dark. As Shunock himself noted, it seems there’s a charity event asking for entertainers’ participation to raise money and awareness here every weekend.
But what Shunock has achieved is a charity event that effectively blankets the community throughout the year with regular shows that are at once highly entertaining and also a great “hang” for those in the industry. The nights have been themed since the second show (the first being a regretful talk-show format that labored for 90 long minutes at the event’s original home, Body English). Over the past two years, Mondays Dark has paid tribute to Disney films, artists from Canada, the British Invasion, the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, country music, soul and funk and famous female rock vocalists.
“It’s just been a hustle to put all of these together, but the cooperation has been really incredible,” Shunock says. “Mondays Dark originally fell on our dark night at Rock of Ages—a lot of shows are dark Mondays, which is why we called it that—but now we have a seven-night schedule. My off night is still Monday, but I can tell you that it is more work to put on a Mondays Dark show than it is to do a Rock of Ages show. I’m at Vinyl at noon, with the band, starting soundcheck, and stay through the show.”
Mondays Dark audiences typically top 400, standing room only. Shunock actually slipped on the ice at the start of Mondays Dark, when his original venue, the Act at Palazzo, closed less than two weeks before Mondays Dark was to debut in October 2013. As word of Shunock’s plight spread through the community, Hard Rock Hotel officials offered to host the show, first at Body English and finally, regularly, at Vinyl.
“It’s actually a blessing for us that the Act closed, because the Act is in a tourist place and I really wanted to make it a locals event,” Shunock says. “There is not a tourist in any of these shows. Maybe—maybe—you’ll have some guys getting hammered at the Center Bar who will come in, but otherwise the tourists who come in to Vinyl are with locals who have brought them to the show.”
The ticket-selling strategy is split between the Hard Rock box office, the charity of the month and Shunock’s own team. By his math, he reaches $7,500 in ticket sales each month and fills the balance through silent-auction sales and by selling keys at $20 a pop to a treasure box housing a pair of tickets to AEG Live shows (Celine Dion, Elton John and Rod Stewart among them). The band gets a stipend, and the room and staff are donated. The Hard Rock Hotel keeps the bar tab—no small figure, given the large crowds. Sponsors have stepped forward, including Greenspun Media Group (this pub’s parent company), Gay Vegas, the Leo App and Chapman Automotive Group, which will again donate the use of a Jeep for one year as part of the giveaways on December 14.
Shunock says he’s committed to Mondays Dark regardless of the fate of the show that brought him to Vegas. Rock of Ages is expected to have a new set and its usual super-solid cast when it reopens, but no show lasts forever. Shunock and his wife, Cheryl Daro, herself a topflight entertainer who has toured with Rock of Ages on Norwegian Cruise Lines, are taking the future day to day. But even if he has to parachute in from, say, LA, Shunock wants the charity show to live on.
“I’m seeing a lot of shows like this taking on charities now, and I think that is great,” Shunock says, noting that the most recent Andy Walmsley production, Drop the Mic at SLS Las Vegas, was a benefit for the Shade Tree’s Noah’s Animal House pet rescue foundation. “We all support each other. Showing up, making a contribution, inspiring people to come out and donate and have a great time—that’s what Mondays Dark is all about.”