Inspiration from 'Beyond'
‘Broadway & Beyond’ benefit at the Alex Theatre honors late actress Wendie Jo Sperber and her weSPARK Cancer Support Center
By Carl Kozlowski 09/22/2011
In a time when it appears that nearly every TV, movie or music celebrity is aligned with a cause, it can be easy to assume that many are involved solely for the publicity. Yet there are some whose efforts are so involved and extraordinary that their charity work overshadows their career accomplishments — Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association or Danny Thomas’ founding of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are two good examples.
Add to that esteemed list the weSPARK Cancer Support Center, a Sherman Oaks-based organization that helps meet the emotional needs of cancer patients, their families and survivors. Started by actress Wendie Jo Sperber — who made a splash as a slapstick comedy actress in the sitcom “Bosom Buddies” with Tom Hanks, and Hanks’ “Bachelor Party” film — the organization has grown to serve more than 4,000 people annually, despite the fact Sperber herself died of breast cancer in 2005.
On Monday, weSPARK will host its annual “Broadway & Beyond” fundraiser at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The star
-studded affair, hosted by “Last Comic Standing” champion Alonzo Bodden, features a lineup of comedy stars, including Wayne Brady and Billy Gardell (CBS’ “Mike and Molly”), TV and Broadway star Steven Weber (“Wings”) and performers from the FOX TV series “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.” Acclaimed actress Felicity Huffman will also present an award to the creator of her smash TV show “Desperate Housewives,” Marc Cherry.
“We are a nonprofit, so all of our services are free and are offered to cancer patients, caregivers, friends who need emotional support and children/teens/young adult support groups and bereavement groups for people who’ve lost parents,” explains weSpark Executive Director Nancy Allen, a former actress (“Robocop”) who joined the organization in 2001. “We also offer yoga, tai chi, hypnotherapy, energy work like reiki, healing touch, reflexology and a lot of things insurance won’t pay for but we offer them here free of charge.”
Offering hard-to-get services like those was Sperber’s main goal in founding the organization, which also serves patients offsite at Northridge Hospital, Olive View Medical Center and Tower Hematology, Oncology and Radiology in Beverly Hills. Diagnosed with cancer at 37, Sperber was a divorced single mother with two children who needed a place where she could share her struggles while finding a safe haven for her own children to deal with the emotional trauma of a parent fighting the disease.
“There was no place for her to go in the San Fernando Valley to take her children, or for her par-ents to go,” Allen said. “A cancer diagnosis affects many people and is devastating for many people, including friends. She was a creative spirit; she also knew intuitively that it’s not just about support groups, but healing your body, mind and spirit.”
weSPARK Cancer Support Center presents “Broadway & Beyond” at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd, Glendale. Tickets are $25 to $250. For more information, call (818) 243-ALEX or visit either alextheatre.org or wespark.org.