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Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

It's a Wonderful Cafe

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day Joan Rivers has performed there and Chita Rivera has sat in the audience. Audiences have packed the room for BenDeLaCreme and Alice Ripley, family and friends have celebrated birthdays and bachelorette parties there, and artists both celebrated and humble have shared their hearts, souls, and craft there. Upstairs in the restaurant patrons could occasionally see Athol Fugard supping with family, Christian Borle and Jonathan Groff lunching at the bar, or Chris Noth and Danny Aiello greeting fans during a party. The West Bank Cafe and The Laurie Beechman Theatre are an indelible piece of the mosaic that makes up the entertainment community of New York City, a place that people have come to cherish as their home away from home.

"I've been going to West Bank for years. It was a regular haunt when I was doing a play at Playwrights Horizon. It is part of our theater history- and the food is great too"

And now The West Bank stands in the shadow of closure, due to the pillar and post that the leaders of our city have repeatedly bashed the restaurant industry up against during the global health crisis. Owner Steve Olsen recently gave in to the thought that it might be time to close the doors of The West Bank and The Laurie Beechman Theatre because it had all become just too much, trying to continue in these harsh reality of the ongoing economic difficulties brought on by the novel coronavirus. His burgeoning plan was thwarted by a handful of celebrated artists who have come to rely on The West Bank for the family and food that it provides to the artists of the industry: a gofundme campaign named SAVE WEST BANK CAFE AND Laurie Beechman THEATER earned over one hundred thousand dollars in a matter of days. The goal for the campaign being 250,000 dollars, a Christmas Day telethon was devised, and that handful of artists have managed to make something truly wonderful: a Christmas Miracle. Members of the Manhattan coalition of artists have come to the rescue, agreeing to participate in the telethon, to give of their time and talent, until the much-needed funds have been raised to rescue this beloved establishment and keep the fires burning at home of 42nd Street, for all who need it.

"Like thousands of others, I owe much of my career, and just as importantly, many friendships, to Steve Olsen and the second home that is the West Bank Café"

I chatted with Tom D'Angora about the gofundme campaign he started and the telethon being produced by himself, husband Michael D'Angora, actor Tim Guinee and composer Joe Iconis, to find out how it all happened so fast, what the West Bank means to him, and what we can all do to help save it.

"West Bank Café is an institution in the New York theater community... it is just seeped in incredible history"

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Tom D'Angora, welcome to Broadway World and thank you so much for talking with us today. We are here to discuss one of the most important things to happen in the entertainment community of New York City - the saving of the West Bank Cafe and the Laurie Beechman Theatre.


You are leading the charge in a movement to save this establishment from shuttering due to the coronavirus challenges that have killed many of our local businesses. Why is this particular establishment so important to you?

Like most people in the theater community, West Bank Café is my second home. Besides the many great meals and outstanding shows over the years, I've celebrated so many milestones there that I have actually lost track. I believe I've had 17 opening night parties there. They hosted our wedding rehearsal, my 30th birthday, my 40th birthday and so many birthdays in between. More than that, it's the way we are all welcomed by Steve Olsen and his unparalleled staff. Everyone is treated like they matter, everyone is treated like family, and I think that is why you are seeing the response you are seeing right now.

"West Bank Café / Laurie Beechman Theatre is the only place we have that ties to the great past of Broadway and that points toward the future... Get the fries. They're really good."

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

You aren't working alone, you are joined in your efforts by your husband Michael, actor Tim Guinee and genius on the rise Joe Iconis - that is an interesting coalition of talented men. How did you all happen to come together for this common cause?

Hillary Clinton once said "It Takes a Village" and as usual she was right. Here's how it went down. I had heard from my neighbor and friend Marie, that West Bank was in trouble and was going to close. So I reached out to Steve Olsen and asked if it was true. He confirmed things were dire, so my husband Michael and I went to West Bank to talk to Steve. We sat with him and asked permission to start a campaign to raise the funds he needed and assured him that the community wouldn't let this happen. At that very moment, actor extraordinaire Tim Guinee was picking up a take out order of West Bank's world-famous enchiladas, and he heard what we were talking about. He joined the convo and we all agreed an event was in order. I don't even remember Tim agreeing to help or joining the cause, it was like a Holiday movie, he just saw that a friend and a place he loved was in trouble and he just jumped right in! After we decided on the telethon idea, our protégay, Brendan McCann who was also mentored by the brilliant Joe Iconis, gave us Joe's contact info. We reached out to Joe to ask if he'd perform and he said he would do anything to save The West Bank. And, he meant it. He jumped right on board and he has been a dream. It couldn't have happened without him. Wait until you hear the song he wrote for this. Joe and Tim, much like West Bank Cafe are the embodiment of what makes our community and our city so special

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

The first leg of this journey started a week ago when you, yourself, created a Gofundme page that has done impressively well. Put a picture in my head of that journey, from having the idea to this moment.

It was a no brainer, I knew the moment the community found out Steve was in trouble they would come together. Just because we live on a famous street in the greatest big city in the world, doesn't mean we are not a community. From the moment I launched the GoFundme, it spread like wildfire. When our amazing HK district leader Marisa Redanty sent word through the Manhattan Plaza community that The West Bank needed help it really exploded. It's really incredible how selfless New Yorkers are, even in the worst of times.

"Recently I asked Miss Chita Rivera what her favorite Restaurant is, she said West Bank Café, of course, and I asked can I take you dinner there sometime and she said YES, so when covid is over I have to go back there and have dinner with Miss Chita Rivera, we can't let it close"
-Iain Armitage

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

Was the idea to do a Christmas Day telethon born at the same moment as the Gofundme page, or did it come later?

Right after we first talked to Steve and met Tim Guinnee at West Bank, Michael and I took our dogs Liberace and Emelina on a walk and starting thinking about how to utilize the 6 million talented people who love West Bank the same way we do and then Michael said, "wait what about an old fashioned Christmas day telethon!" Right then, Tim called and told us he'd already started recruiting and everyone in the world wanted to help. So we asked Tim, "what about a telethon" and he said, "wow that's perfect". That's how it happened. From idea to us starting work on the event, was about a 15-minute time frame. We are happy to sell the movie rights to Hallmark.

"West Bank Café, it's home"
-Dylan Baker

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

In only a week you have managed to put together a mind-blowing list of talent for the telethon. It reads like "It's a Wonderful Life" - was that what it was like in real-time?

It is exactly what this is. Steve is having his George Bailey moment. The second our community heard Steve was in trouble they wanted to help, no questions asked, proving just as the movie taught us, "No man is a failure who has friends"

"The Westbank is foundational to the New York theater, film and television community. It is essential that we save this hub, this home, this quiet, magnificent joy on 42nd street."
-Tim Guinee-Co-Producer of the Save West Bank Telethon

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

Tom, you're a producer. Use your best producer verbiage to compel our readers to tune in to the telethon on Christmas Day.

Christmas is about family and about giving. This year we invite you to spend Christmas day with your extended New York family and help us make a difference in a special New Yorker's life. (Michael D'Angora chimes in) We know a lot of people will be home, alone, or not having their traditional celebrations, so we thought this would be a nice way to give everyone a little holiday cheer. It's a thank you for the people who've already donated and, hopefully with all the stars and talent we have lined up, we, can get some fresh eyes on our fundraiser as well. We'll start and noon and keep churning out holiday music, skits, and stories from the entertainers who have made West Bank Cafe and The Laurie Beechman Theater their home away from home for the past 42 years.

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

And, Tom, you're a long-standing member of the community and resident of this town. Use your most personal verbiage to make our readers understand the importance of contributing to the rescue of The West Bank and The Laurie Beechman.

I will never forget the first time I walked into The West Bank Cafe over 20 years ago, it hit me. This is New York. This is the theater scene I dreamt of being a part of. It was like out of a movie, celebrities all around, the owner of the place going table to table greeting his patrons, unbelievable talent performing in the basement. It was a magical thing to behold and I was welcomed in. I was nobody, but I was treated like part of the community that I wanted to be part of my whole life. It really is a life-changing place and has been for so many people. I want kids fresh off the bus to continue to have that experience and that opportunity. There needs to be a place where Patti LuPone performs at 7 and an unknown super talent performs at 9:30 and is treated like they matter as much as the established legend. Because they do and that is what that place has always done. The West Bank Café/Laurie Beechman Theatre needs to continue.

"Everyday I hear about a small business closure and it just feels like NYC's character and gritty charm just keep getting chipped away at. I didn't move to New York to dine at the Olive Garden and see shows produced by movie studios. West Bank Cafe and The Laurie Beechman Theater are essential to New York City's character. So, we're hoping for a little miracle on 42nd street this year to help this institution weather out this storm. What would this city's theater scene be like without it?"
-Michael D'Angora-Co-Producer of the Save West Bank Telethon

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

Speaking personally, the thought of a New York City without the West Bank makes me sick, so you can count on my participation. Tom, thank you for chatting with us and sharing this passionate quest of yours with us. Is there anything you'd like to add, in closing, that we haven't covered?

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported this cause and who have supported the arts during these difficult times. When you think about the way small businesses and artists have been left to fend for themselves this year, it is hard to not feel alone and hard to not feel cynical. But, if nothing else, this has proven that, like Sondheim taught us decades ago, "No one is alone". Even if the government turns its back on the community, the community will always have each other's backs. This is the true spirit of the season and the true spirit of our community. I've never been prouder to be a New Yorker than I have been in 2020. We will survive this together and we will honor those we have lost. One last time THANK YOU!!!!

"My career as an artist has been about making theater that feels like everyone in the house, both on stage and off, is part of one, big, occasionally sloppy, always heartfelt family. The West Bank Café is a monument to that kind of community. It is more than a great New York City restaurant, it is more than a neighborhood hang, it is more than an artistic hub: it is a community. Where uptown and downtown not only coexist, but get merrily sloshed, share a cab home, and start a groundbreaking theater company together. The place means more to me and my own family than I can possibly say and I simply refuse to live in a Manhattan that does not include Steve Olsen's landmark institution. Spots like the West Bank are few and far between and it is up to all of us to make sure it's here forever. It is just as integral to the fabric of the New York arts scene as the theaters which surround it. Like NYC itself, West Bank is an outlaw, both elegant and scrappy, a misfit canteen for the bowery bum, for the Broadway star, for the ages. If we want to Save our Stages, if we want to Save New York, we need to save the West Bank. "
-Joe Iconis-Co-Producer of the Save West Bank Telethon

Contribute to the SAVE THE WEST BANK AND Laurie Beechman THEATER gofundme campaign HERE.



Stars from Broadway, TV, Film Sing Their Hearts Out

To Save Beloved Theatre District Institution

Free Stream Begins 12 pm ET on Christmas Day (December 25th)

A select list of talent scheduled to participate* includes Betty Buckley, Deba Messing, Martha Plimpton, Joe Iconis, Iain Armitage, Lewis Black, Kevin Chamberlain, Megan Hilty, Alice Ripley, Kerry Butler, Telly Leung, Ryann Redmond, Leslie Kritzer, Nick Adams, Jacki Cox, Alison Fraser, Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, Cheri Oteri, BenDeLeCrem, Isaac Mizrahi, Perez Hilton, David Eigenberg, Dylan Baker, Warren Leight, and many more stars from stage and screen to be announced in the following days. *List is ever-growing and subject to change

The Save West Bank Cafe Virtual Telethon will stream free of charge beginning at 12 pm EST on Christmas Day (December 25th) at www.SaveWestBankCafe.Com The event will feature a day's worth of holiday music, stories, greetings, and West Bank memories from an ever-growing roster of talent. Donations to Save West Bank Café can be made now or during the telethon on the show's website.

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

Interview: Tom D'Angora of SAVE WEST BANK CAFE VIRTUAL TELETHON on Christmas Day

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