Salute to sounds of the '60s Former Top-40 singer anchors 'Leader of the Pack'

June 25, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

With powerful resonance and a beguiling smile, Alton McClain Scarborough promises to make audiences fall for "The Leader of the Pack."

The recording artist, who has a Top-40 hit to her credit, plays Darlene Love in the musical that is awash in the sounds of the '60s.

"Babies, I was there," she says as she leads the audience on a tuneful "trip back in time."

Her own background is entwined with the era. The pop song "It Must Be Love," by Alton McClain and Destiny, appeared on record charts in 1979.

While she gently sways to the beat and belts out, "Be My, Be My Baby," Ms. Scarborough, 41, introduces the story of songwriter Ellie Greenwich, whose "Da Doo Ron Ron" sounds dominated airwaves 30 years ago.

The song-and-dance production, which runs through July 10, opens Theatre on the Hill's 12th season at 8 p.m. tonight in Alumni Hall at Western Maryland College. Other presentations coming this summer are "Big River," "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Barefoot in the Park."

Producer Ira Domser calls Ms. Scarborough's addition to the company propitious, and he has high praise for her easygoing stage presence.

"Alton is not only immensely talented, she actually fronted a popular girls' singing group," he said. "It's a great opportunity for the other cast members to meet and share road stories with someone who knows what the music business is like."

Mr. Domser calls the musical a resurrection of "Grease," which played at Theatre on the Hill several years ago and was among the troupe's most popular productions. "Leader" evokes nostalgia of the same genre, he said.

During rehearsals, Ms. Scarborough's strong voice has made it difficult for the producer to cue into any glitches on the set, he said.

"She just makes you want to watch," he said.

Ms. Scarborough is married to Grammy-winning songwriter Skip Scarborough and lives near Eldersburg.

She shrugs off her success: "I was just in the right place at the right time."

After she moved to California in the 1970s, she met a producer who wanted to start a "girl group." She soon was under contract with her name out front of the female trio.

"There I was singing on the radio," she said.

Destiny stayed together about three years.

"No more groups for me," said Ms. Scarborough.

Although she has no formal music training, she said she does have an ear for music.

"I can just listen a few times [to a song] and I will pick it up," she said.

She remembers much of the "Leader" lyrics from her childhood in Baltimore. Before teaming with Destiny, she sang with the Tan Beatles at city clubs.

Her brief time in the spotlight won her the following of a few loyal fans, including Josh Selzer, the stage manager for "Leader" and "Big River," who says he has been a "fan since '79."

"I heard her first record and bought her first album," said Mr. Selzer. "I have been listening every since."

When he heard Ms. Scarborough was back in Maryland, he set out to find her. He had played a Destiny tape for Mr. Domser, who agreed Ms. Scarborough would make a perfect Darlene.

The part came at a perfect time for her, too, Ms. Scarborough said. She had taken a break from music to raise her 2-year-old daughter.

"I just said to my husband, 'I wanted to do something musical,' " she said.

"Leader" may be her last foray into rock 'n' roll, she said, because she plans to concentrate on gospel singing. In between rehearsals at the Theatre on the Hill, she and her husband are working on a gospel album.

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