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'Star Wars,' Sinatra, Broadway, and Queen: Philly Pops announces 2017-18 season

Elton John: "Wonderful Crazy Night"
Elton John: "Wonderful Crazy Night"Read morehandout

The Philly Pops 2017-18 season embraces Star Wars and Sinatra, Bernstein and Broadway, Elton John, Queen, the Rolling Stones, and other classic rock acts.

Slated to be announced Tuesday, at the Franklin Institute's Giant Heart, the Pops' 39th season includes concerts on Memorial Day weekend, July 3-4, and during the holiday season, plus a one-night show by Rufus Wainright. It reflects the Pops' continuing effort to maintain and expand its audience, capitalize on recent successes, and ease boundaries between generations and genres.

In a statement, Philly Pops CEO and president Frank Giordano called the season a swing "through the last 70 years of American popular music." Michael Krajewski, music director, said by phone, "We're looking for music and themes that will be classics in popular music -- music no longer just of its own time, but by this time, looking back, has become part of the sound track of people's lives."

First on the concert schedule is "A Star Wars Celebration Featuring the Music of John Williams" (Oct. 20-22). This continues the Williams celebration in Philadelphia, what with the Philadelphia Orchestra's trilogy of Williams movie scores last October, playing live to three films. No movies this time -- but lots of music, plus storm troopers from Garrison Carida of the 501st Legion. Krajewski says he values Williams' music because it is universally known and "cross-generational": "We're always looking for programs that speak to adults, children, and everyone in between."

That could also be said of the music of Elton John, subject of an "Elton John and Friends" concert Nov. 10-12. Michael Cavanaugh, who sold out two Billy Joel-themed dates last year, returns with his band to do hits by John and other composers, such as Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend.

The "Philly Pops Christmas," Dec. 1-19, features the full-on Pops treatment of holiday favorites, bringing onstage Philly native Justin Hopkins, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir. On Jan. 19, 2018, Rufus Wainwright will join the Pops Orchestra for an evening of his music.

Next year is the centennial of the birth of onetime Curtis Institute student Leonard Bernstein, and on Feb. 2-4, 2018, Philly Pops will explore his music, with Broadway singers Lisa Vroman, Alli Mauzey, and Ryan Silverman. Bernstein is an ideal Pops subject, Krajewski says: "He's definitely a crossover composer and musician. In his pop music, there's a hint of the classical, and in his classical music, there are hints of the popular -- and in his music in general, classical or Broadway, there's a certain depth everyone senses."

A Best of Broadway Show Hits" is slated for March 9-11, 2018; and a lovingly crafted homage to Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies is set for April 6-8, 2018. Michael Andrew, who sold out the Sinatra series in 2015, returns, along with Broadway star Ashley Brown.

Does Krajewski look forward to one concert more than others? He gracefully sidesteps the question, but does allow that "I am really looking forward to 'Pops Rocks.' " That show, April 27-29, 2018, includes tunes by Queen, the Stones, and contemporaries. "I am looking forward," Krajewski says, "to hearing the audience, 2,000 people, sing along with an orchestra and full 180-voice chorus in 'We Will Rock You' or 'Let It Be.' "

Free events this year include the second annual "Comcast NBCUniversal Presents the Philly Pops Memorial Salute" at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on May 27, celebrating those who serve in the military, fire and police departments, and in the Philadelphia School District. On July 3, the Pops Orchestra will again play on Independence Mall, and on July 4, it will play during the Celebration of Freedom ceremony and parade.

As part of the Pops in Schools program, Philly Pops in partnership with the School District will present the All-City Jazz Festival on June 9. Jazz bands from schools in the district, plus the audition-only All-City Jazz Orchestra, will play in an evening showcase.

Here's the full list of the Pops schedule:

  1. Oct. 20-22: Star Wars Celebration Featuring the Music of John Williams

  2. Nov. 10-12: Elton John and Friends

  3. Dec. 1-19: Philly Pops Christmas

  4. Feb. 2-4: Leonard Bernstein

  5. March 9-11: Best of Broadway

  6. April 6-8: Frank Sinatra

  7. April 27-29: Pops Rock: Queen, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and others

  8.  May 27: Philly Pops Memorial Salute

  9. July 3: Free concert on Independence Mall 

  10. July 4: Celebration of Freedom ceremony and parade

Tickets go on sale at noon on Feb. 14. Information: 215-893-1999 or