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June 16, 2019

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A question for the holidays: Is two Toys for Tots too many?

Toys for Toys-Minus 5 Ice Bar

Julio Castillo

Marine Cpl. Baker, Sgt. Yommalat, Santa Claus and Sgt. Ringgold at the Toys for Tots drive at Minus 5 Ice Bar in Mandalay Place.

Updated Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015 | 8:41 a.m.

Toys For Tots

Susan England poses with toys at her home Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. England made a New Year's resolution to collect 100 toys for $100 to donate to the Toys For Tots charity. Then, after she reached the goal, she just kept on going she said. Launch slideshow »
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Accomplished drummer and salesman Larry Joe Harness has helped raise more than $1 million in the last few years for charity events like Toys for Tots, and he is being named person of the year by Helping Hands of Vegas Valley for 2013.

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Holly Madison makes a Toys for Tots donation at Minus 5 Ice Bar in Mandalay Place.

The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is researching the prices of toys for the holidays. I’m learning so much. For instance, a “Star Wars: The Force Awakens Kylo Ren Deluxe Electronic Lightsaber” goes for $29.95 at Toys R Us (the R is backward at that retailer, but I can’t seem to make a backward R on my 1948 Royal).

The listing for that “Star Wars” toy says the lightsaber is “electric.” Isn’t that sort of a given? Hence the light?

Whatever, I bring up the toys to lead into this plea: Donate unwrapped toys wherever possible to those collecting on behalf of needy kids. This bears reminding, as we have a pair of shows operating under the Toys for Tots brand that are not connected, yet are collecting toys for needy kids.

The first of these charity productions is “It’s a Wonderful Vegas Life All-Star Benefit Show” for Toys for Tots at Tropicana Theater at 7 p.m. Saturday. Billed as the stars are venerable impressionist Rich Little (today of Laugh Factory at the Trop) and Piero’s songstress Pia Zadora. Co-hosting are the reliably effervescent Ben Stone and Jasmine Trias.

Among those scheduled to appear in a Frank Sinatra holiday format title are Travis Cloer of “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas; Ruby Lewis of Human Nature’s holiday show at the Venetian and in the spring “Paramour” on Broadway (we met her during the run of “For the Record: Baz” at Light at Mandalay Bay); and busy Las Vegas vocalist Nieve Malandra of Zowie Bowie performing with “Sexxy” at Westgate Las Vegas star Jennifer Romas.

The lineup is further bolstered by Las Vegas vocalist Jennifer Joseph Lier; the throwback rock band Reckless in Vegas; Tommy Ward (catch him Saturday nights at Tuscany’s Piazza Lounge); magician Tommy Wind; Sinatra impressionist Gary Anthony; and Shades of Sinatra (frequent performers at the Italian American Club).

The Trop show also is linked to the 17th Annual KLUC Toy Drive, for which my buddy Chet Buchanan of the Morning Zoo is again spending a dozen days atop a 30-foot-high scaffold in the NV Energy parking lot to raise money, awareness and — naturally — toys and bicycles for needy kids.

Admission to “It’s a Wonderful Vegas Life” is $20 or an unwrapped toy — emphasis on the latter — with VIP tables set at $50. Ticket information is at TropLV.com.

Certainly, the show boasts an impressive lineup, and the cause — again, unwrapped toys for needy kids — is noble. The show is a production of Jonathan Scott, who was an organizer of the Toys for Tots show at LVH (now Westgate) over the past three years.

This is where these Toys for Tots shows become at once interesting and a bit confusing. Scott was previously part of the Toys for Tots holiday show as sponsored by Cadillac of Las Vegas, an annual production that has been formally endorsed by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, which is the official sanctioning body for Toys for Tots events.

That group and Scott split this year in an apparent disagreement over which venue to use (Scott told me he had been seeking a room for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots show as recently as last month) and also over the “representation” of the show, as described by L.J. Harness. Scott’s show is nonetheless delivering toys to Toys for Tots officials, who are accepting those donations even without an express endorsement of that production.

A Cadillac of Las Vegas official, Harness is a longtime Toys for Tots representative who helped launch these charity shows and secure sponsorship funding from the auto dealership (Harness also is a very good drummer who has jammed recently with David Perrico’s Pop Strings band at the Palms). Harness is hosting official Toys For Tots promotional events, along with a collection of Marines, and has led the Marine Corps Toys for Tots since its inception. He brought in Scott, a local producer and media personality, for the show in 2012.

The divide in these two shows stems from a simple disagreement over how much emphasis needed to be put on Scott’s role as executive producer (an issue that is not nearly as important as the cause — to provide unwrapped toys for needy kids). For this year, Harness has moved the annual Marine Corps Toys for Tots production from Westgate Theater, where it was filled to about capacity in 2014, to Orleans Showroom.

That event is at 7 p.m. Dec. 18, admission also is $20 or an unwrapped gift of that value; go to the Cadillac dealership or just show up with the toy at the Orleans Showroom entrance to get a ticket. Perrico is serving as show producer and bandleader joined by a lineup of Anne Martinez (founder of “Alice” and a swing in many productions in town, most recently “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers); Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie; comic magician Murray Sawchuck; and Pop Strings singers Eric Sean and Naomi Mauro.

Also: great singer (and team roper) Chadwick Johnson; freelance dancer and model Lora Kelsey (late of “Zombie Burlesque”); Elvis tribute artist Justin Shandor; actor Robert Nash (famous for his spot-on depiction of Robert De Niro); Neil Diamond tribute artist Rob Garrett; Bootlegger and Tuscany performer Laura Shaffer; singer Bobby Brooks Wilson; and vocal group These Guys.

The red carpet for that production is 6 p.m., and, again, this is a lineup of appealing, established entertainers who are well known in this city. As a means of disclosure, I was invited weeks ago to help introduce this production, same as last year at Westgate, so you will see me there, too. But you might still be wondering, do we need two of these shows?

That’s debatable. But what isn’t debatable is the community-wide need for gifts this time of year. Be a part of the solution and pick up a toy. I’ve got my eye on the lightsaber.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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