Legends of Motown show to benefit BRMHS radio training program

The Legends of Motown show takes over the stage at Baton Rouge Magnet High School Saturday, Aug. 16.

The one-time performance benefits the school’s radio training program. The show is underwritten by longtime WBRH-FM Saturday deejays S.J. and Mickey Montalbano, who retired their “Jukebox Legends” show last fall.

“When we were on the air, we raised thousands of dollars for the radio station,” S.J. Montalbano says. “We still wanted to do something … their Jazz-a-Thon is next month.”

So the two brothers met with principal Nan McCann and pitched their idea to bring a show to the school. Then Montalbano, aka Sam Montel from back in his music producing days, hit the road looking for just the right show.

“I went to three or four states,” he says. “I even thought about the Jersey Boys; all these shows have several traveling groups. Then I met Lorna and Bernadette.”

He saw their Motown show and knew right away it was the one. “It’s a great show … like a major ‘big city’ production.”

Lorna Farrar and Bernadette Dugas have been producing shows since 1985 when they were working as recruiters for Nicholls State University. Dugas has a background in film and Farrar a background in theater; both have degrees in education.

When the movie business started picking up in Louisiana, the two opened a casting company, South Louisiana Casting, based out of the Thibodaux/Houma area.

“We noticed all the local talent so we started producing dinner theater,” Farrar says.

One of their more popular ones is Legends of Motown.

“We were a little leery about finding talent to portray all those fabulous Motown vocalists, so we held auditions,” says Farrar. “We were amazed at the talent we had right here … these people came to us from the gospel choirs in their churches. What we couldn’t find, we went looking for.”

Aside from the quality of the production and talent of the cast, Montalbano says the production is “clean cut.”

“It’s like something you’d see in church but it rocks,” he adds with a laugh. The brothers were also impressed that all the performers are from Louisiana.

The performers include New Orleans Experience Production Co. singer A.J. Diggs as Diana Ross; Nicholls State University senior Angelle Gros as Mary Wells; Kenner Wal-Mart manager Eugene Triggs as Stevie Wonder; Kandace Washington, lead singer of Nite Life, as Martha Reeves; DeAundré Woods, an honor student at H.L. Bourgeois High School in Gray, as Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye; and Carr Coleman Jr. and Jonquel Every as members of the Temptations and Four Tops.

Starring as the young Michael Jackson are 12-year-old Patrell Sanderford and 10-year-old Rance Scott Jr. Gralen Bryant Banks, who has appeared in Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke,” HBO’s “Tremé” and TNT’s “Memphis Beat,” stars as Motown founder Berry Gordy and serves as the evening’s emcee.

“We want to bring a nostalgic act with that 1950s-’60s appeal that you can see without paying an arm and a leg to go see,” says Montalbano.

While this is his first foray into musical theater, Montalbano hopes it’s not his last. Under the “Jukebox Legends” umbrella he would like to bring Jimmy Clanton home for a show.

“I don’t think he ever played at Baton Rouge High,” he adds. “I’d also like to get some Doo Wop group in here … groups and shows that appeal to people our age.

“This is a great venue,” says Montalbano of the school’s renovated auditorium. “It’s got fresh seats and air conditioning. I just love the new auditorium. When I first saw it (after the renovation) I started thinking musical plays.”