I Survived the Philly POPS—and I’m Under 50!

From the minute some of my friends heard I was going to the Philly POPS, the jokes came rolling in. Most had to do with how many blue-hairs I’d be mingling with before, during, and after the show. A few asked if the ghost of Lawrence Welk would haunt the concert. Some wondered what I would think of the entire experience, given that I lean much more toward the classical music end of things when it comes to live performance.

The answer? The POPS presented a fun, light, and, well, very, very, very stereotypical evening of entertainment, with one or two exciting exceptions, during their “Classic Soul” concert series. The ghost of Lawrence Welk wasn’t there, but I sure did strike up a good chat with a woman who was on Social Security (she admitted this, mind you, after she told me about the price of tickets and how she was on a fixed income) about Mercury Retrograde.

Clearly, the highlight of the evening was the two guest vocalists, Broadway performers Capathia Jenkins and Darius De Haas, who belted a series of Motown numbers. Ms. Jenkins, a Temple University alumni who has starred in productions of Caroline, or Change and Newsies, was particularly the star of the night, receiving a standing ovation for her rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” She added polish to the concert and a level of excitement that was palpable. Mr. De Haas, known for his work in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Rent, sang extremely passionate versions of “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Both performers were energetic and kept the concert moving.

Perhaps the Pop’s Music Director, Michael Krajewski, should have taken some notes from the vocalists about stage presence, as he had, like, none. Yannick this was not. Mr. Krajewski entered the stage to the Rocky theme song, and proceeded to explain why he was qualified to conduct soul music: He was born in Detroit. Mr. Krajewski continued with more gags along the same lines (he was even heckled at one point by the audience after he made a truly stupid joke about backup singers), and it didn’t help that later he used “You Might Be a Redneck” jokes to explain the differences between a pop orchestra and a classical orchestra. It was these moments that deflated the energy that Mr. De Haas and Ms. Jenkins brought to the evening.

This is important to note, given that any organization like the POPS must bring new, young audiences in the doors in order to survive. No doubt, the crowd is of the older set; there wasn’t even the need to make a “turn off your cell phones” announcement at the start of the show. I was clearly one of the youngest people in the house, if not the youngest. Did I tap my feet and clap my hands and have a good time? Yes. Would I pay a ton of money to see one of their concerts? I’m not sure. I couldn’t help but think back to December, when I sat at the Kimmel Center, nearly in the same seat, to see a real soul concert: Aretha Franklin. There was no comparison.

Here are some other things I observed:

  • Mr. De Haas and Ms. Jenkins had more costume changes than a Cher concert. Seriously.
  • Every time Ms. Jenkins entered the stage after a costume change, she was routinely cat called by some dudes in the audience.
  • The POPS did include three young backup singers, all students from the University of the Arts, and they were good. Really good.
  • There was a woman eating a giant Sam’s Club-sized box of Goobers throughout the entire concert.
  • I was getting really nervous every time the performers asked the audience to get up and dance, for obvious reasons.

As I was leaving Verizon Hall, I was stuck behind a woman with an oxygen tank. I was trying to make conversation.

“What did you think of the concert?” I asked.

“Oh, honey, it was one hell of a show!”

So it was one hell of a show and everyone’s happy and dancing in the aisles, despite the fact that half of them would probably be fall risks at a hospital. That seems to spell success for the POPS.

For now.