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It takes a lot of work and manpower for a "one-man show," but it's something Broadway veteran and Augusta native Russell Joel Brown is accustomed to. Brown is bringing his popular Mozart to Motown show back to Augusta on Feb. 18 at the Miller Theater and working six days a week on the production, he said.
"Russell lives the show," sound designer Trey Maxwell said. "He is a wonderful, creative talent."
Even working around the clock, a one-man show still needs a small army to pull off. Maxwell is one of 52 people assisting with the production, which features Brown singing a wide-range of musical numbers from well-known radio tunes to lesser known pieces. Brown will make multiple costume changes and perform choreography. . Participants include a six-piece band, back up singers, choir, 10-member ensemble made up of high school students from across the area, band director Lynwood Holmes, a director from Atlanta for the ensemble.
"I call it a one-man show because no one has as much responsibility as I do, but I've got lots of people," Brown said.
"Russell is a perfectionist," Holmes said.
This is not the first time Brown has presented Mozart to Motown – he began the production in 2002 and ran five shows including Christmas specials until 2004. After the final show ran, Brown flew to New York City for call backs for "The Lion King" and was cast for the role of Mufasa.
In 2017, Brown returned to Augusta where he worked for the School for Arts Infused Learning before starting his own nonprofit, Boys with a Future.
But in all those years, "From Mozart to Motown" never made it back to Broad Street. Fundraising for the nonprofit seemed like the perfect reason to revive the show.
Boys with a Future
The nonprofit, which is a part of Good Neighbor Ministries, is an afterschool program for middle and high school boys. The boys participate in arts, recreation, academics, social skills and service. In addition to local community service projects, the program has taken boys to various mission trips to the North Georgia mountains, Tennessee and Alabama.
"All young people need to understand that they need to serve, but these particular young people need to understand that there's always someone who has it worse off than you do," Brown said.
Boys with a Future also assists boys and their families with utility bills, clothing and food. Last year, Brown, along with the help of Henry Ingram at International Formal Wear, helped a young man obtain clothing to go to the prom.
"He said 'I'm not going to the prom' and I was like 'What? You're a junior in high school, you're going to the prom,'" Brown said. "He said he didn't have anything to wear, so I said we'd get him something – find a girl, and we'll get you something to wear."
The boys will be present at the show, and all will be wearing attire from Ingram's store.
The Big Show
Over the concert's initial five-show run, all performances were held in the Imperial Theatre. The 850-seat venue sold out at every show, according to Brown. That was one of the reasons he opted to move it to the Miller Theater, which reopened in 2018. The nearly 1,300-seat theater is close to selling out for this year's performance. As of Wednesday evening, only 100 seats remained available.
A big part of preparing the show is selecting the music. As the show title suggests, the range of music is from older pieces to country and modern tunes. Brown said he typically starts with a list of 50 songs and narrows them down by his vocal ability and other factors. He's careful to select pieces he knows the audience will know and enjoy as well as some that will challenge the audience to broaden what they listen to.
"There is some music I'm never going to listen to … so from the music that I listen to, I'm going to choose the music I love and that people recognize," Brown said.
He will be performing 17 numbers including tunes made popular by The Temptations, “Nessun Dorna” by Giacomo Puccini and Luciano Pavrotti, “Up” by Cardi B. and "Chattahoochee" by Alan Jackson. Other genres also include R&B, gospel, rock and blues.
The Broadway alum is practicing four days a week with the ensemble and the band and attending vocal coaching classes with Marcel Ramalho, Augusta University's director of choral activities and professor of voice. Although Brown has been studying voice for 41 years, he still benefits from vocal training, especially with such a wide range of musical numbers, according to Ramalho.
"(Russell has) an absolutely gorgeous baritone sound, but he has to polish it especially for opera pieces … Vocal chords are sensitive muscles so you need to be careful not to strain them," he said. "His technique is very much in place so we can just focus on making music."
Tickets are still available on the Miller Theater website.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Russell Joel Brown to bring Augusta a reprise of Mozart to Motown show