REVIEW: One con deserves another as South Shore Theatre Works continues with lively ‘Chicago the Musical’

With the recent premiere of the highly-anticipated FX biographical miniseries, Fosse/Verdon about the sizzling creative and romantic partnership between legendary filmmaker and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and spectacular Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), it seems Fosse and Verdon’s influence is still everywhere.  So, it is not surprising that South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) is taking on what SSTW’s Executive Director and President Richard Bento called, “a dream production of mine to direct,” Chicago the Musical continuing through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School in Weymouth, MA.  This show is not for young audiences.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of Fosse’s most popular creations was a dark satire dealing with corruption and murder during the Jazz age called Chicago the Musical.  This Tony award-winning production continues to thrill audiences as one of the longest running Broadway musicals and its most recent 2002 film adaptation was the 2002 Academy award-winning film starring Renee Zellwegger (Roxie), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma) and Richard Gere (Billy Flynn) garnered a few Academy Awards.

SSTW's 'Chicago the Musical' cast

The cast of ‘Chicago the Musical’ Photo by Annabella Valle/South Shore Theatre Works

How has Chicago the Musical earned its longevity?  The proof is in its clever, satirical storytelling that isn’t afraid to occasionally shock, its sizzling choreography, memorable characters, catchy music, and its frank, timeless message about humanity.  With an impressive, semi-interactive fifteen-piece orchestra led by conductor Doug Gerber that elevates the action onstage plus additional songs not featured in its most recent film adaptation, this darkly humorous production is off to a good start.

With a modest set featuring vintage theatre lights that illuminate the stage, director Richard Bento keeps this production in classic Fosse form dressing his dancers in black. The close-knit, tight choreography by co-choreographers Richard Bento and Amy Valle Wallace includes some dance crazes of the Jazz Age that make for some visual sizzle.  Though the classic number Cell Block Tango needs a bit more snarl, clever Razzle Dazzle boasts some sleek staging.

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Headlining this colorful cast is Stephanie Wallace as desperate, hot tempered and fast-living Roxie Hart.  With a great scowl and energetically navigating Roxie’s myriad of emotions, it is easy to see how Wallace relishes this character.  She is never better than during her natural and engaging signature song, Roxie Hart.

Jaclyn Cleary lends a mix of sharp sophistication and mayhem to Velma Kelly, a former dancer turned criminal.  Her wild, light eyes reveal a smugness and unsteadiness that will keep you guessing her next move.  Having seen Chicago the Musical quite a few times, I admire Jaclyn Cleary’s sleek vocals and not so by-the-numbers rendition of All That Jazz.  She and Matron Mama Morton, portrayed charismatically by Hanna Ford, have great chemistry.  They are two sides of the same coin in their rendition of Class.

Staring down her glasses with an ironically sophisticated air is Hannah Ford as Matron Mama Morton.  With a belt that certainly packs a punch, her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama clearly shows she knows how to pull some strings and depicts Mama in a different and refreshing way.

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Wielding a cane, Aaron Stolicker masterfully navigates the cast and the audience as suave, shrewd, and debonair Billy Flynn, sharply dressed in a black tuxedo.  He’s full on smirking charm in the number, All I Care About is Love and quite the storyteller in his rendition of They Both Reached for the Gun, a complex, energetic number with strong choreography.  J. Merlo adds some humor and some serious pipes as journalist Mary Sunshine.

South Shore Theatre Works continues Chicago the Musical through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School, 89 Middle Street in Weymouth, MA.  Click here fore more information, tickets, and how to support South Shore Theatre Works, an organization that recently celebrated its third anniversary.  Click here for more information about South Shore Theatre Works and its Executive Director and President, Richard Bento.

 

Itamar Kubovy of modern dance troupe, ‘Pilobolus,’ discusses fascinating footwork and Celebrity Series of Boston return

Ever since Celebrity Series of Boston’s annual, free season opener Let’s Dance Boston at Dewey Square on September 13 featuring dancers that brought the audience to its feet, the 2017-18 has been a non-stop celebration.  Adding to the excitement from Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29, international modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, returns to Boston to share their distinctive, always fascinating moves in Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Celebrity Series of Boston

Pilobolus has taken the stage in over sixty countries and thrilled audiences with television appearances at the Academy Awards, the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Olympics as well as made film appearances in Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada and Snakes on a Plane.  Executive Producer of Pilobolus, Itamar Kubovy, discussed Pilobolus’s fascinating footwork, its unique name, and the troupe’s love for Boston.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your 12th performance with Celebrity Series of Boston.  You must know Boston pretty well.

Itamar Kubovy:  We love performing in Boston and that’s not just lip service. We’ve always found our audience to teach us a huge amount about our work. The laughs, gasps, and paper rattling teach us about the work we are making.  In Boston, we encounter a crowd that makes us better at what we do and allows us to sharpen our performances.

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From the program, ‘Branches’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

 SC:  Pilobolus is named after speedy barnyard fungus.  In the dance, I can see the symbolism behind the name.  Is there an interesting story behind it?

IK:  Jonathan Wolken, the co-founder who named the company, had a scientist dad studying the Pilobolus fungus in his biology lab, an organism about ¼ of an inch tall that grows in cow dung and has a large eye at its tip that always leans toward light. When the time is right to reproduce, the fungus shoots its head off of its body at the fastest acceleration known in nature. This alacrity and attraction to the light inspired Jonathan to name their first dance and the fledgling company after the phototropic fungus.

SC:  It seems like a quite a physically demanding job for these dancers.  What kind of routine keeps the dancers in shape and how do they best prepare for a performance?

IK:  When our dancers are in the studio, they work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. They are lifting each other and working with tremendous physical intensity for close to 40 hours a week. The additional prep involves body maintenance, stretching, group work, and yoga.  Regarding the prep right before the show, we warm-up with an open curtain so the audience coming in watches the dancers move on the stage.  Both the audience and dancers need some time to prepare and we try to share that time. It makes the show all the more exciting when the lights go down.

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International dance troupe, Pilobolus in Pilibolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance   Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson

SC:  I imagine live performances and sometimes dangerous stunts can hold some surprises every once in a while.

IK:  They do, but the work these people do together day in and day out really limits the risk based on the trust they build between one another. Most importantly, these dancers know how to instantly adjust when something goes wrong. While we certainly have our moments of injury, we have a great deal of confidence going into every show.

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From the program, ‘On the Nature of Things’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

SC:  Improvising is invaluable.  How is trust developed between other members of the group?

IK:  Trust is mysterious, but there is no doubt in my mind that the physical giving of one’s weight and balance to another person, literally putting yourself entirely in their hands over and over again speeds that process up.  Some of the principals in which our process is based is the human physical connection by sharing, giving, and taking weight.  Trust is a powerful by-product of caring touch.

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From the program, ‘Echo in the Valley’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

Pilobolus Maximus:  Beyond the Limits of Dance will take the Boch Center Shubert Theatre stage at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Friday, October 27 through 29, as part of their national tour.  A free, post artist performance artist talk moderated by Peter DiMuro of the Dance Complex will be held on opening night. Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston, their full schedule, and how to support them during their 79th season.  Learn more about their season and get updates through Facebook and Twitter.

Bay Players of Duxbury presents the Tony Award-winning play, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

Its Academy Award-winning film adaptation was not only hauntingly memorable, but was named by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest films of all time.  Based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, Louise Fletcher’s tyrannical, indelible performance as Nurse Ratched at psychological warfare with defiant Jack Nicholson as Randle P McMurphy delivers a riveting message and stands as one for the ages.

Bay Players of Duxbury proudly presents the unforgettable drama, Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest for two weekends only on Fridays June 23 and 30 and Saturdays June 24 and July 1 at First Parish Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts at 8 p.m. Click here for more information and for tickets.

A play set at Pacific Northwest Mental Asylum, Randle P McMurphy is a carefree, charismatic man who becomes an inmate at the asylum after getting arrested.  What lies in store for him and his surrounding erratic inmates is much more than he ever anticipated.

Directed by Phil Markella, produced by Nicki Bowser, and starring local talent Stephen Bradford Doherty as Randle P McMurphy and Sara Camden Daly as Nurse Ratched, see the captivating drama, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kicking off on Friday, June 23, part of Bay Players of Duxbury’s 60th season.  All performances take place at First Parish Church, 842 Tremont Street in Duxbury, Massachusetts.  Click here for further details and tickets.  Discounted student and senior tickets are available.

Bay Players of Duxbury is also holding a five-week acting workshop with veteran Equity actor Gary S. Martinez called, Creating a Character kicking off on Thursday, June 29.  Click here for further details and registration information.  For more information on Bay Players of Duxbury, follow them on Facebook for their upcoming events, auditions, and more.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s lighter ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ a stunner

Kicking off their 49th annual summer musical series with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s uplifting Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston unveils an everlasting world in rich, glorious color.  An interactive, endearing, and humorous production, Joseph nears its 50 year mark with exuberance and a bit of modern subtlety stirred in the funniest and unlikeliest of places.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston proudly presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through Sunday, June 18 at Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Based on the Book of Genesis, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat explores the incredible journey of Joseph and his brothers as Joseph discovers his destiny.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott Peter Mill as JOSEPH with children’s ensemble perform ‘Any Dream Will Do’

Bursting with vibrant, dynamic costumes by Goodspeed Musicals, wardrobe supervisor Amelia Fitch not only rose to the occasion, but makes a distinct, daring, and memorable impression in each spectacular ensemble and most notably in Joseph’s magnificent coat. From stunning, glimmering headdresses to brightly colored, heavily-embroidered designs that recalled another era, the costumes were consistently remarkable.  The scenic design by Peter Colao and Richard Shreiber and David Wilson’s lighting design further enhance the show’s visually spectacular nature in multi-colored lights and innovative sets.  The versatile and brilliant music, by the Academy Award-winning team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, offers a wide spectrum of music for every taste from calypso to rock and roll, accompanying the unique retelling of a sacred tale of treachery and unceasing hope.

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Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott Peter Mill as JOSEPH and male ensemble perform “Joseph’s Coat.”

With wide eyes and an unassuming demeanor, Peter Mill portrays humble, yet forthright Joseph with instant likability.  Peter gives a multi-dimensional, powerful performance as a naïve outsider who is transformed by his destiny.  Peter’s versatile, soothing, vocals master signature numbers Any Dream Will Do and Close Every Door, his tone heart rendering and sympathetic.

Waltham native, singer, and American Idol contestant Ayla Brown returned and delivers a powerful performance as Narrator, ten years after she last performed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Reagle.  Clever, sunny, and engaging, silvery soprano Ayla Brown has a relaxed charm with each cast member, but was particularly sweet with the Children’s Choir, a small group of boys and girls.  Carefully arranged as a coordinated rainbow in pinks, greens, purples, blues, yellows, reds, the choir’s angelic, soaring voices blend in perfectly at different points in the songs.  Their choreography, helmed by Susan Chebookjian, mix well with Ayla during the number, Go, Go, Go, Joseph, as the kids performed the hand jive.  It is also worth mentioning that one of the child singers at intermission was dressed like a mini-Joseph, wearing a lit multicolored hat and a cleverly designed mini Technicolor Dreamcoat made entirely of beach towels.

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Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott Ayla Brown (right) as NARRATOR with children’s chorus performing A Pharaoh’s Story.

Charming and funny even whether they are rejoicing or scheming, the united choreography between Joseph’s eleven brothers reflects the wonderful camaraderie between each of them.   This was most evident during a country themed tune, One More Angel in Heaven with Bernice Baldassaro, who does a wonderful job chewing the scenery as Judah.  Another excellent number that depicts the brothers’ united front was delivered by Taavon Gamble as Naphtali, a catchy, amusing song called Benjamin Calypso.

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Bernie Baldassaro (center) as JUDAH with male ensemble.

Rock n roll royalty takes on a new meaning in the show’s rollicking, show stopping number, Song of the King, featuring Andrew Giordano’s  always impressive comedic talent and zany charisma as Pharoah.  It’s a shimmering display in blue and gold as Andrew flawlessly captures the essence of a certain king in a high energy number not to be revealed here.   It is one of the great highlights of the show in every joyous, silly moment.

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Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott Ayla Brown (left) as NARRATOR and Andrew Giordano as PHARAOH

The cast wearing sunglasses and a unconventional journey to Egypt are just a few of the subtle, modern touches added to this lighthearted production that had its share of stirring moments, but offers so many more uplifting, spirited moments, it’s difficult to feel down for long.

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Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott Male ensemble performs “One More Angel in Heaven”

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 18.  Click here for more information, tickets, group rates, and more.  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to get updates on its stellar summer musical season.

Amanda Pekoe of NYC’s The Pekoe Group, shares her Tony Awards predictions and sheer love of theatre

 

The 71st annual Tony Awards, hosted by Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Tony award-winning actor and singer Kevin Spacey, are coming up on Sunday, June 11 and will be broadcast live at Radio City Music Hall in NYC and on CBS at 8 p.m.  It is always an honor to speak to Amanda Pekoe, founder of NYC’s The Pekoe Group, about her thriving business and her sheer love for all things theatre.

Each year, Amanda offers her Tony predictions for theatre’s biggest night! Click here for more on the nominees and here for further information on the Pekoe Group.

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Another shot of Amanda Pekoe, Christopher Lueck, and the Pekoe Group at the Tony Awards/Photo courtesy of Amanda Pekoe/The Pekoe Group

Sleepless Critic:  It’s a very exciting time for The Pekoe Group and your team.  The Pekoe Group recently celebrated its eighth anniversary.  How are you feeling about year eight?

Amanda Pekoe:  I’m really excited about our team and the high level of work we are doing.  Our digital department has expanded and we’re seeing huge ticket sales results from our digital campaigns.  We also won an award this year for the poster design for the Off-Broadway musical, The View UpStairs.

SC:  Congratulations!  It’s an especially busy time leading up to the Tonys every year.  Please tell me how the Tonys impact your business.

AP:  Awards season is such a busy and magical time of year.  I love when shows and artists are recognized for their tremendous work and talent. This year is particularly exciting because there are so many new musicals and different points of view being expressed in the writing on stage. I’m very grateful to continue to be a part of the social conversation.

 

SC:  The 71st annual Tony Awards, hosted by award-winning actor and singer Kevin Spacey, will be held on Sunday, June 11.  This is a special year as the Tony Awards is returning to its traditional venue, Radio City Music Hall.  It was at the Beacon Theatre last year.  It must be nice that it has returned to its roots.

AP:  I am looking forward to it being back at Radio City Music Hall. It’s such a large and beautiful venue, and so many people get to actually be in the theatre for the awards.

SC:  Kevin Spacey is a wonderful and unexpected choice to host.  He is not only an award-winning actor, but has proven to be a song and dance man many times over.  It is surprising that this is his first time hosting.

AP:  I think Kevin Spacey will have a great time hosting the Tony Awards. I’ve never met him in person but I think he’s so talented.  I love him in House of Cards!

SC:  It is wonderful to have an insider at the Tony Awards each year and you’ve been predicting the winners for about five years now.  Groundhog Day the Musical, Come from Away, Dear Evan Hansen, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are the nominees for Best Musical.  What nominated show do you think stands out to win this year?

AP:  All four of these shows are so terrific and so terrifically different from one another. It’s been such a well-rounded season of new musicals and they all offer something very special. I think Come from Away and Dear Evan Hansen are neck-in-neck, but I’m rooting for Dear Evan Hansen. I think the music is incredible and the story is extremely relatable for anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been on the outside looking in and not being seen.  I know I sometimes do.

SC:  Best Play nominees include Indecent, A Doll’s House Part 2, Oslo, and Sweat. Which ones do you think will prevail?

AP:  The plays are tough because they are all so good.  Sweat is a Pulitzer-Prize winner!  Of all the shows, I think my favorite would have to be Oslo.  I thought it was one of the most well-written plays I have watched this season and the topic was fascinating. The play’s rhythm moved so well and featured tremendous performances.

SC:  Denis Arndt for Heisenberg, Chris Cooper for A Doll’s House Part 2, Corey Hawkins for John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, Kevin Kline for Present Laughter, and Jefferson Mays for Oslo are all up for Best Actor in a Play.  Cate Blanchett for The Present, Sally Field for The Glass Menagerie, and Jennifer Ehle for Oslo, Laura Linney for Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, and Laurie Metcalf for A Doll’s House Part 2 are up for Best Actress in a Play.  Who do you think are the big standouts?

AP:  These actors and actresses are all so great in these roles.  My personal favorites have been from the great and hilarious show, Present Laughter‘s Kevin Kline and Jefferson Mays in Oslo.  As for the actresses, Laurie Metcalf in A Doll’s House Part 2 and Jennifer Ehle in Oslo.

SC:  The nominees for Best Actor in a Musical are Christian Borle for Falsettos, Josh Groban for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Andy Karl for Groundhog Day the Musical, Ben Platt for Dear Evan Hansen, and David Hyde Pierce for Hello, Dolly!  Best actress nominees in a musical include Denee Benton for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Christine Ebersole for War Paint, Patti Lupone for War Paint, Eva Noblezada for Miss Saigon, and Bette Midler for Hello, Dolly!  Patti Lupone and Bette Midler in the same category!  Who do you think will win?

AP: I’m in love with Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.  At every performance, he barely leaves the stage and sings his heart out. As for the actresses, it’s really hard for me to say. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole are forces of nature in War Paint and Bette Midler, well, there are no words.  These are three greatest of the greatest performers all gracing the Broadway stage in the same season and how awesome is that!  I think Denee Benton and Eva Noblezada are both so talented and very strong singers. This really is a tossup.  The category features some of the most gifted actresses and all of their performances are stunning.  I wish they could all win together.

SC:  What is The Pekoe Group’s specialty and what goals do you have for The Pekoe Group’s future?  I’ve noticed you often offer marketing advice to those who follow you on social media.

AP:  Our specialty is working with experienced producers, finding new audiences, and new ways to talk to traditional audiences.  Click here to check out our blog for marketing tips and pointers.

Besides our work, Christopher Lueck and I have been co-teaching a marketing class for CUNY Baruch College’s Masters Program in Arts Administration and that’s been really fulfilling.

Looking ahead, we hope to connect even more new audiences to theatre productions they’ll love.

SC:  What is the best or easiest way a business can contact the Pekoe Group?

AP:  Reach out to us on facebook or twitter: @ThePekoeGroup

South Shore Theatre Works proudly presents stirring spring musical, ‘Children of Eden’

A little over thirty years ago, a new musical was born, loosely sharing the story of the world’s first family.  Based on the book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) proudly presents the beloved spring musical, Children of Eden for one weekend only from Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 14.  All performances take place at Stetson Hall in Randolph, Massachusetts.  A VIP reception will take place on opening night.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Directed by Richard Bento and musically directed by Henry Buck, Children of Eden, a musical loosely based on the book of Genesis, explores in a humorous and bittersweet way, the universal and ever complex relationship between parents and children. Children of Eden features well-known songs from the musical such as Generations, Strangers to the Rain, and Let There Be.

Performances for Children of Eden will be held on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m.  One Sunday matinee will be held at 5 p.m.  Discount tickets are available for groups, seniors, and students.  Click here for tickets and more information.

South Shore Theatre Works is always looking for volunteers for a wide range of tasks including sewing, the box office, hanging up or designing a flyer or poster, or with media.  Click here for upcoming fundraisers and here on how to support South Shore Theatre Works.  Join their mailing list and learn how to become a member.  South Shore Theatre Works is also on Facebook.

 

Queen Latifah, Ben Folds, ‘Jaws,’ and ‘E.T.’ part of the Boston Pops ‘Celebrating John Williams’ season

Sometimes the most tremendous talent is located right in the backyard.  Responsible for a wealth of critically-acclaimed and celebrated music scores over a career that spans six decades and beyond, Boston Pops Laureate conductor John Williams has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards, winning five.  Legendary film scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jaws as well as the Olympic Fanfare and theme and NBC Sunday Night Football are just a glimpse of the spectacular works by the incomparable John Williams.

In honor of John’s 85th birthday and his incredible accomplishments over the years, The Boston Pops dedicate their season to Celebrating John Williams from Wednesday, May 10 through Saturday, June 17 at Boston Symphony Hall.  The season will kick off with multi-talented actress and singer Queen Latifah from Wednesday, May 10 to Thursday, May 11 and finishing off with the 25th anniversary of Gospel Night on Saturday, June 17.

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

The Boston Pops also offers a pre-season concert series hosted by Indiana Jones star, Karen Allen and the live recording of Boston Pops CD release on Friday, April 7.  Click here for Boston Pops tickets and here for more information on upcoming BSO concerts.

Led by accomplished conductor Keith Lockhart, a compelling roster of renowned artists and celebrity appearances enliven this spring’s Boston Pops season.  The stage and screen have never been brighter with iconic artists such as musicians Ben Folds, Leslie Odom, Jr, and the Party with the B-52s.  Other highlights include The Beatles & Beyond, Jaws in Concert, Mamma Mia, E.T. in Concert, Cirque De la Symphonie,  Lights, Camera, Music, The Music of John Williams, and more.

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Ben Folds Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

The Boston Pops presents the always phenomenal and wildly-popular Gospel Night once again led by Charles Floyd and the return of Film Night with John Williams.  Click here for a full list of performances.

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Leslie Odom, Jr from Hamilton will perform with the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

Click here for tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.