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Legends returns at new digs in Myrtle Beach

Saluting the stars will reach a new stratosphere when Legends in Concert opens March 17 at its new home at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach.

Tribute artists to the Blues Brothers, Michael Jackson, Jay Leno, Dolly Parton, Little Richard and Elvis Presley will take the stage at Legends on the night of St. Patrick's Day.

That concert will cap off a more than $2 million project after Legends' move from Surfside Beach. Local officials with Legends, part of Las Vegas-based On Stage Entertainment Inc., rattled off myriad benefits and improvements in the new site, for an enhanced concert experience for patrons and for more innovative means in making the presentation for the next 20 years.

They like the centralized location, which will help them build on the attraction's fan base and repeat business, and the proximity to Broadway at the Beach's allure year round.

Chris Beattie, regional general manager, said since the gutting of the former Club Kryptonite building in December, All Access Inc., the same company that set up the stage for the Super Bowl halftime show has designed and built this Legends set.

Trey Younts, production manager, said the stage sits "three-quarters in the round" amid the 600 seats.

"The visible part of the stage is bigger," said Bruce Bailey, technical director, "and more of it is out in the audience."

That brings more "left and right appeal for a better viewing aspect," said Jason Aiesi, general manager, liking the elimination of technical limitations at the old site.

Beattie said the coliseum rounded effect makes "not one seat ... more than 50 feet from the stage."

Beattie and Aiesi said other enhancements for a greater guest experience include cup holders, flip-up arms in many seats, dedicated space for people with physical disabilities, and devices for individuals with hearing impairments.

Bailey spoke about Legends doubling the number of projection screens to four, and about light-emitting diode technology.

"It's not just the theatrical lighting, Bailey said. "The whole stage will be illuminated with LED lights."

Younts said all the technical aspects and aesthetics upgrades prove "critical for the entire experience" for the audience. "It's the sum of its parts."

"Everything complements one another," Bailey said.

Star selection

Elvis Presley and the Blues Brothers remain staples in Legends' local lineup, which will undergo a roster shuffle four times a year, as always, Beattie said.

Victor Trevino Jr., whom Elvis Presley Enterprises ranks as one of the top five Elvis tribute artists in the world, will debut in Myrtle Beach in a 1950s, rockabilly style, Aiesi said. Then, Elvis in the next lineup will don a circa-1968, black-leather look.

Beattie said every summer Legends hopes to bring in a group. The Beatles rocked the stage last year, and ABBA, whose music was revived by the Broadway play and the movie "Mamma Mia!", will entertain this summer.

Plans continue to bring a return of the Temptations, and for Christmas, "People ask for Liberace," Beattie said.

The musicians and dancers make up other stars who shine in each show.

With the former Legends band opting not to move to the new site, an all new foursome has come together.

Beattie said "phones rang off the hook" by parties interested in joining the crew, which Younts called the "cream of the crop" of area musicians.

Younts treats the band as the "deal breaker" for each show's success because the musicians "show us what the performers have."

The four dancers have each worked with Legends at any of its various sites, Beattie said, and all their outfits have been built by Legends' wardrobe department in Las Vegas.

Speaking of summer again, Beattie said Legends will continue as a host for a regional round in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, as sanctioned by Presley's estate. Legends also said licensing rights also apply to characters, such as Elwood and Jake Blues, so the Blues Brothers will stay in Legends' camp locally.

Blues times two

Eric Martin and Carmen Romano have spent 18 years - including 10 straight at Legends in Las Vegas - as The Bluzmen, playing Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi, respectively, as Elwood and Jake Blues.

While riding from their base in Las Vegas to a show in Arizona last week, they said by phone they've done more than 9,500 shows together.

Martin said they had been asked to take part when Legends opened in Surfside Beach in 1995, but scheduling precluded that, but their regret will be reversed by helping usher in Legends' new era in Myrtle Beach in their first-ever visit here.

"Our show has evolved through the years," Martin said. "Every show can be different, depending on how the audience is."

Still, the siblings on stage realize they share a bill in doing their four songs for each concert.

"Legends has a format," Romano said, "and you have to stay on format. Usually, our show is 15 minutes. We're not even breaking a sweat yet."

Romano said a key part of doing their act centers on all the little nuances fans come to expect.

"They look for those things," he said. "The white socks, the names written on your knuckles, the way Jake would raise his eyebrow."

Martin said portraying the more subdued brother, he still exudes energy so that nothing is subtle during their stint on stage, which will keep an emphasis on his harmonica.

"When I play Elwood, if he kicks his legs when dancing, I kick them higher," Martin said. "I try to get as much energy out of the character as I can."

Romano said they're still floored by a real-life endorsement from a few years ago, when Aykroyd joined them on stage for a few songs.

"He said, 'Burn it, man,'" Romano said.

Lighting up Leno

Marcel Forestieri will replicate Jay Leno, longtime host of "The Tonight Show" on NBC, as the master of ceremonies and giving monologues in each Legends show.

"It looks like I'm hosting the show, rather than being an act," he said by phone last week from home in Las Vegas.

With 16 years playing Leno, the former 13-year professional house painter said he has done the character twice on Leno's own show.

"How he is on camera is one way," Forestieri said. "Meet him in person, and it's another way. His personality energy is a lot lower. He's calm and sedate. But what a brain this guy has. If he meets you today, and he doesn't see you for 10 years, he'll remember your name."

Forestieri said he was inspired by the Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon routine that Dana Carvey and the late Phil Hartman had done on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," and he found a good fit in portraying Leno.

Forestieri views mimicry as a gift. Breaking down voice characterizations into seven or eight components and resetting them for himself fulfills his formula, which he demonstrated by phone with Regis Philbin's voice and remembering how hearing the Munchkins on "The Wizard of Oz" got him working on that development.

"One day I heard it," Forestieri said, flowing into relatable comparisons.

"Jay Leno has a watered-down Boston accent, a deviated septum and a slight lisp. It's nasal, and the nose is blocked. There is a melody to his voice, though. And he'd be the first one to say, 'I don't sound like that.'"

Forestieri never has forgotten Leno's "honest to goodness genuine" nature.

"He said, 'Hey man, no problem. Everybody has to make a dollar; that's OK,'" Forestieri recalled, fulfilling Leno's request to avoid repeating his standup routines.

"I do it with respect, and I don't cross any lines," Forestieri said.