The second annual Leimert Park Theatre Festival will feature a series of 16 staged readings beginning tonight with the opening performance and gala at 7 p.m. at the Regency West featuring Barbara Morrison starring as Dinah Washington in “I Wanna Be Loved.”

The festival opener co-stars Jay Jackson as Brook Benton and features the John Stephens-led 18-piece Barbara Morrison Jazz Band. The musical tribute to Washington was nominated for three NAACP Theatre Awards for its 2013 performances.

Morrison, a three-time Grammy-nominated artist, and Michael Cormier co-wrote “I Wanna Be Loved,” which tells the story of Washington’s life and loves during a legendary career that ended with her accidental death at age 39 in 1963.

“I wanted to tell a story about her entire life and named it ‘I Wanna Be Loved’ because it best explained her life,” Morrison said. “She had seven husbands (including Detroit Lions star Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane, and her mother never supported her secular career and never came to see her perform. Her mother wanted Washington to stay in gospel, where she began. It’s a killer show and we’ve had real good success with it in Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Jackson, a Lou Rawls-style singer and actor with television and feature film supporting role credits, plays Benton, who had a pair of crossover rhythm-and-blues and pop hits with Washington in 1960. Washington also had hits on both charts, most famously the powerful “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” in 1959. She was known as the “Queen of the Blues” and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

On Monday at 7 p.m. in the Vision Theater, “Power Play” by Lorey Hayes, explores politics, passion and the power of God. It will be presented in association with Foxx Follies and Foxx Media Group.

The festival will again present works from theater companies no longer operating in South Los Angeles. Plays presented are from the archives of the Inner City Cultural Center, Inglewood Playhouse, Watts Mafundi Institute and Writer’s Workshop, Ebony Showcase Theater, the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles, and Marla Gibbs Crossroads Arts Academy.

Participating theater companies include The Bi-Lingual Foundation of the Arts, Fernando Pullum Performing Arts Center, Inglewood’s Theater Perception Consortium, Oasis Seniors, Hindsight Collab, Foxx Follies, Bronson Productions, 3 Chi Productions, the Vision Theater, Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, and the Watts Village Theater Company.

Invited companies include The Roby Theater, Ebony Repertory Theater, Ted Lange Productions, Pasadena Playhouse, The Latino Theater Company, and the Carson Players.

Venues include the Regency West, KAOS Network and the Vision Theater in Leimert.

Tickets for the opening night performance of “I Wanna Be Loved” and the gala reception are $35. All other shows are $10. To purchase, go to the Vision Theater box office at 3341 W. 43rd Place, or call (323) 290-2386.

The 200-seat Regency West Supper Club is located at 3339 W. 43rd St. For further information on the opening night of the festival, visit: www.LeimertParkVillage.org.

In addition to indoor entertainment, outdoor programs on the People’s Street Project and in Leimert Park Plaza, the festival will feature a new rendition of the Los Angeles African Marketplace and Cultural Faire through Sunday beginning at 2 p.m, returning after a six-year hiatus, as well as the New Orleans Festival. The theme is looking back on the 10 years since the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, the month-end Leimert Park Artwalk will finish off the weekend of events.

The Leimert Theatre Festival is also a prelude to the National Black Theatre Festival will be held in Los Angeles in 2016.