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Top Five Craziest Pops Headliners

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For the Fourth of July, nothing stirs the patriotic heartstrings better than a fireworks display accompanied by a symphonic pops concert full of Sousa marches and topped with a bombastic 1812 Overture. Of course, more than a few of these ensembles are adding extra flair this summer with special guests from Broadway stars such as Kelli O’Hara to less predictable featured performers.

As a salute to the orchestras that stepped outside the box when programming their concert seasons, here are our top five unlikely headliners.

1. The country’s oldest and one of its most esteemed orchestras, the Boston Pops caused a sensation last winter when then Celtic basketball player Shaquille O’Neal donned tails to conduct the ensemble’s Christmas concert. The strange cameos get even more curious this summer, as the Farrelly Brothers (filmmakers behind slapstick comedy flicks Dumb and Dumber and Something About Mary) lead the ensemble in Port Hyannis, RI. Perhaps a rousing rendition of The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup” will help them fill Shaq’s size-23 shoes.

2. The Houston Symphony’s pops promises to bring otherworldly “Star-Spangled Salute” to the Miller Outdoor Theater. The ensemble will accompany astronaut Chris Hadfield, who claims to be the first folk singer in space. More definitively, he was the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Hatfield will sing his original song, “Big Smoke,” inspired by the first of his two space missions. The concert ends with the more familiar 1812 Overture, complete with artillery fire as well as fireworks.

3. The St. Louis Symphony, which plays a pops series in addition to its more traditional fair, gets an end of summer virtual visit from one of our favorite consumers of classical music, Bugs Bunny. The orchestra will provide live accompaniment to that Wascally Wabbit and his high jinks projected on the big screen. The concert comes courtesy of conductor George Daughterty, who has performed the concert in the U.S. and abroad.

4. Tributes to 70's music icons like Elton John, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney are not unusual, but the San Francisco Symphony takes a step even father in honoring the decade. As the ensemble prepares for its centennial season, it will join the premier Swedish ABBA tribute band, ARRIVAL, for a night of the original group’s top hits. ARRIVAL fans will get a chance to meet the impersonators in the flesh at a CD signing following to the concert.

5. When Moulin Rouge is the theme of an evening at the Hollywood Bowl, you’d expect a performance related to the Baz Lurhman movie of the same name. But you’d be wrong. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra is importing the high-kicking Moulin Rouge dancers from the Parisian café for a night of Can-Cans. Paris Combo, a cabaret band, will also tag along for the trip. 

What's the most unlikely soloist or conductor you've ever seen with an orchestra? Leave your comments below: