Broadway with the Big Band

Philly POPs and ‘Mary Poppins’ star Ashley Brown are bringing theater classics to Parx

Perfect harmony: Big Band Broadway spotlights the classic standards of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra, with songs including “Taking a Chance On Love,” “Strike Up the Band” and “I Got Rhythm.” Source: The Philly POPs

Essex, Connecticut native Todd Ellison has admittedly had a “charmed” career.

Dubbed one of “Broadway’s Electric Conductors” by The New York Times, Ellison has lent his expertise to productions of 42nd Street, Annie and An American in Paris, conducted at the Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria, and accompanied stars such as Beyonce, Meryl Streep, Barry Manilow and Kelsey Grammer.

Now, he’s adding yet another line to his impressive resume as the recently-appointed music director of The Philly POPs. Though Ellison’s role isn’t effective until July 1, audiences can get a sneak peek of his talents on Saturday, June 1, when he conducts the POPs’ Big Band Broadway with Ashley Brown concert at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center.

“I’m excited,” Ellison said. “It’s a wonderful organization. The musicians are incredible. They can play any style of music, whether it’s Hollywood or Broadway or light classical. They can swing like no other POPs orchestra can. It’s a big deal for me, and to be able to work with them on a regular basis is a dream come true because they play like nobody else.”

Ellison previously led the POPs for its first Memorial Day concert at Longwood Gardens in 2015 and its 2018 Memorial Salute concerts. But on June 1, he has the honor of showcasing the tunes of his first love – Broadway.

The 90-minute production features The Philly POPs Big Band, which encompasses the brass, woodwind and rhythm sections of the full orchestra.

“We’re going to be doing songs that the Big Band’s never played before, and we’re doing songs that haven’t been heard at Parx, ever. A lot from the Broadway Golden Era, the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s,” Ellison said. “They’re just unbelievable when they sit down to play any of these great charts, even from the heyday of the big band era. They knock that stuff out of the ballpark.”

Big Band Broadway spotlights the classic standards of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra, with songs including “Taking a Chance On Love,” “Strike Up the Band” and “I Got Rhythm.”

“I love celebrating Broadway because that’s really been my thing for my entire professional career. It’s all I wanted to do,” Ellison said. “I was a piano major at Boston University studying classical music, and I was on that track, but I always knew where my heart was. And that was into this music that had a theatrical edge to it, that could move people with melody and words. It’s not just static, classical pieces. It’s got other things involved.”

The show stars actress Ashley Brown, who will perform favorites from Disney’s Mary Poppins. Brown originated the title role of Mary Poppins on Broadway, for which she received Outer Critics, Drama League and Drama Desk nominations for Best Actress. She also starred as Poppins in the national tour, earning a 2010 Garland Award for Best Performance in a Musical.

“She’s a wonderful singer with the most clear, beautiful voice,” Ellison said. “You can’t lose when you go to a concert and the singer is singing songs that they love, songs that mean something to them. It’s much more interesting than going to a concert where someone was told, ‘You have to sing this and you have to sing that. Go.’”

According to Ellison, every song heard in Big Band Broadway was selected from the heart.

“This is material that we stand by, that we listen to at home, or has special meaning in our lives,” he said. “All of that knowledge and all of that stuff that I appreciate, that’s what we’re bringing to this concert. It’s a real eclectic bunch of songs, but all with the big band feel.”

In Ellison’s opinion, Big Band Broadway is a can’t-miss for a number of reasons.

“I think if people enjoy great music like the American Songbook, which basically all of these songs are in, played by the best players of our time right now and sung by an incredible vocalist, then they’re in for a complete treat,” he said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind, never-gonna-happen-again kind of event for The Philly POPs, and I’m excited to be a part of it.” ••

If you go…

Big Band Broadway with Ashley Brown takes place at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center, 2999 Street Road, Bensalem, on Saturday, June 1. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the show beginning at 8 p.m. Visit parxcasino.com/bensalem/xcitecenter for ticket information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com