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Returning favorites and new twists

by Michele D.  Maniscalco
Thursday May 11, 2017

Photo of Queen Latifah courtesy of the Boston Pops
Photo of Queen Latifah courtesy of the Boston Pops  

Spring Pops schedule

The Spring 2017 Boston Pops season, which opened on Wednesday, May 10 with an homage to the cinematic music of composer John Williams, promises returning favorites and first-time guests from a wide variety of genres.

Several generations of musical theater fans will enjoy this season's offerings, including a performance of "Sondheim on Sondheim" and the Boston Pops debut of Leslie Odom, Jr. of "Hamilton" fame; the presentation of the films "Jaws" and "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial" with accompaniment by the Pops. Gen X icons join the Pops for musical excursions include singer/rapper/actress Queen Latifah, who debuts with the Pops May 10 and 11 with jazz standards and hits from popular musicals, and Ben Folds, who will perform fan favorites as well as his critically-lauded Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Programs appealing to the early and latter ends of the Boomer generation include "The Beatles and Beyond" with Cha-Chi LoPrete of WZLX's "Breakfast with The Beatles" show hosting and conductor Steve Hackman making his Pops debut with the music of the Fab Four; "Mamma Mia!" with Arrival from Sweden, an ABBA tribute band; and the return of the B52s. Family-friendly programs include Cirque de la Symphonie, featuring aerialists, dancers, jugglers and contortionists accompanied by the orchestra. This year's season finale marks the 25th Gospel Night and features Charles Floyd, CeCe Winans and the Boston Pops Gospel Choir.

Conductor Keith Lockhart talked about this season's highlights and in a telephone interview this week. He is particularly excited about the orchestral accompaniments of Jaws and E.T.: "Those are wonderful challenges," he observed. Lockhart is also looking forward to hosting the world premiere of "Sondheim on Sondheim", which combines fresh arrangements of Sondheim's musical-theater classics with clips of Sondheim reflecting on his creative process and opus. He's a true Beatles fan and he's a lot of fun to work with. He also has a big fan base," Lockhart observed.

Lockhart also discussed the process of choosing acts and programs for the season. "We do audience feedback and focus groups and things like that, but primarily the artistic staff and I look at what's out there, what the audience seems to respond to. We look at what has sold well in past seasons and we try to build a season that is balanced and not too heavy on one particular genre. We have a broad audience with a wide range of interests. [Planning the season] is a jigsaw puzzle, and I am really happy with the way this one has come out," he said. "A quarter of a century has gone by and our audience has been pretty consistent, which means we have new people coming in all the time; otherwise we would have a very old audience at this point. I think we have a very diverse audience that is specific in what it would like to hear. We have a Broadway audience, a singer-songwriter audience, a film-buff audience, and that is a little different from 20 years ago, when we would fold things into a one-size-fits-all variety show. That means we have to be very specific in what kind of concerts we are providing and what audience we'd like to attract to that particular concert." He anticipates a joyous reception for "Mamma Mia!", which is scheduled on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14. "ABBA is the gold standard; everybody loves ABBA.I think we'll have an ABBA singalong whether we invite people to sing along or not. I certainly hope we do."

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