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Pops open season with a beautiful beast of a show

Broadway stars (from left) Telly Leung, Susan Egan, and Alton Fitzgerald White perform a tribute to composer Alan Menken while conductor Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall Thursday night.Winslow Townson

”It’s been years since we’ve had anybody here and we’re obsessed,” went one lyric to “Beauty and the Beast” showstopper “Be Our Guest,” a song that is, of course, a grand welcome, promising satisfaction and expressing palpable relief at once again having the opportunity to do what the ones presenting it have been itching to do for so long. As the evening’s second song, it seemed to speak for the Boston Pops as it kicked off its first in-person spring season in three years Thursday at Symphony Hall. It was also, explicitly and implicitly, nearly all the fanfare that conductor Keith Lockhart was prepared to make about it.

Instead, it was Broadway singer Alton Fitzgerald White who greeted the audience and introduced the evening, devoted to the songs of Disney and musical-theater composer Alan Menken, whose music fueled the stories of Ariel, Belle, Aladdin, Rapunzel, Hercules, and Audreys I and II. Lockhart himself barely spoke two words (“feet” and “street,” specifically, as Susan Egan sang a wide-eyed “Part of Your World”) during the first six songs, after which he finally assumed his typical hosting role. And the full-program focus on Menken also broke the Pops precedent of splitting the concert into discrete, separately-themed halves.


With his boisterous baritone, White took on all of the larger-than-life characters, from a sea witch and a man-eating plant to a genie, a half-God hero, and a biblical king. He leaned into “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with brio and used the depth of his voice for regal strength instead of villainous glee in “The Long Long Day” from “King David.” As both the original Belle in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast” and the voice actor for Megara in “Hercules,” Egan was the only one who got to perform songs she originated. She expressed nostalgia and trepidation simultaneously in “Home,” and she and the Pops propelled “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” to the orchestral girl-group heights of the Ronettes.

Telly Leung, who played Aladdin on Broadway for over two years, brought an earnest, vibrato-laden theater-kid yearning to songs like “Santa Fe” from “Newsies” and “Out There” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Despite lacking chemistry in the romantic duets, he and Egan still made “A Whole New World” soar, and they made the “Tangled” number “I See the Light” a soft, helpless swoon that gazed at the stars.


Throughout, Lockhart became the de facto schnook in the songs that called for one: Egan pointing at him as she sang “semi-sadist” during “Somewhere That’s Green” and “No man is worth the aggravation” in “I Won’t Say,” White and Leung looking his way when wondering who would make good plant food in “Feed Me (Git It!).” Not that Lockhart had anything to worry about. Anyone with the power to toss Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” — with brass, low strings, and percussion playing across one another rhythmically — into a Menken program is clearly no one to be messed with.


At Symphony Hall, Thursday.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.