Broadway’s Allison Blackwell Comes Home to Sing With the Philly POPS
Allison Blackwell doesn’t find herself in Philadelphia very often anymore. The Montgomery County native has been in New York for more than a decade, performing on Broadway in shows like The Lion King. But she came home this past February to slay “Natural Woman” during the Philly POPS’ Carole King Songbook concert — fitting, since Blackwell was Aretha Franklin on Broadway in A Night With Janis Joplin.
Blackwell joins the POPS again this weekend for two Fourth of July shows, starting with a concert at Independence Hall on Sunday, July 3, alongside opera singer (and fellow Philadelphian) Justin Hopkins.
On Monday, the same POPS brass percussion ensemble that played for the pope will kick off the Independence Day parade at the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony, with Hamilton’s Tony Award-winning Leslie Odom Jr., who’s from East Oak Lane. At night, Blackwell and Hopkins come back to sing a mix of Broadway hits, pop songs and patriotic tunes with the full 65-piece POPS orchestra at the Wawa Welcome America concert on the Parkway, before the fireworks close out the holiday weekend.
We interrupted Blackwell’s concert prep to talk about her Philly roots and playing a hometown show.
Where did you grow up?
My dad was raised in West Philadelphia and my mother was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up in Wyndmoor, in Montgomery County. Both of my parents at an early age encouraged my love of singing, especially since they were both music professors. Every day I would hear my father practicing piano in one room and see my mother studying choral scores in another.
Did you sing as a kid?
I saw my first opera, Hansel and Gretel, at the Metropolitan Opera at age 4 in New York City and a year later I joined the choir at my church. In 1991, I was one of the founding members of Temple University Children’s Choir. I was also involved in my high school’s show choir and thespian group. So to answer your question, yes, I sang a lot.
What was your first big break?
My Broadway debut in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess starring Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier. I’ve been an Audra McDonald fan since I heard the original recording of Ragtime. To be able to work beside her and watch her mold her character of Bess was a true master class. We also went on to win the Tony Award for Best Revival, so that was the icing on the cake. My other big break was my second Broadway show, A Night With Janis Joplin. Playing one of my idols, Aretha Franklin, recording a cast album and being reviewed by the New York Times and other major papers was mind-blowing.
Growing up around here, I’m sure you know how into the Fourth of July Philly gets. Are you doing anything special to prepare for the Philly POPS concerts?
I remember as a child watching the parade on television every year, and for several years my parents took me to the parade. Preparation for me is vocal rest, which means a limited amount of talking during the day, lots of sleep, working on my material with my vocal coach and drinking lots of water. Since I have been busy with other symphony concerts and recently a workshop of a new musical in New York City, rest is the key.
What’s it like playing a hometown show?
It is amazing to be back in my hometown. I moved to New York in 2004 after graduate school in Boston. My career never brought me professionally to Philadelphia. This past February, I made my hometown return with the Carole King Songbook starring Liz Callaway, Bryce Ryness and the Philly POPS. I felt the energy and support the moment I stepped on the stage of the Kimmel Center. It was a special weekend, especially since my family got to see me. There is nothing better than returning to your hometown, especially when it is the City of Brotherly Love.
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