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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

On stage: Philly native Hugh Panaro will appear in the Philly Pops Christmas Spectacular, which runs Dec. 5–20 at the Kimmel Center.

Broadway’s beloved Phantom of the Opera and Philly native Hugh Panaro will help celebrate the season with the Philly Pops. The annual tradition — The Philly Pops Christmas Spectacular — runs Dec. 5–20 in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center.

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Led by Britain’s celebrated conductor David Charles Abell, the concert features three choirs, the ever-popular audience singalong and Panaro, who makes his Pops debut during this family favorite.

Guest vocalist Panaro spent many of his formative years living in East Oak Lane, where his mother still resides.

“I went to St. Helena’s grade school and spent much of my youth as the church organist at St. Helena’s Church. But when I was 12 years old, my parents took me to see Annie on Broadway. Andrea McArdle was starring in it, and my parents said let’s go see the hometown girl.”

One look, and Panaro was smitten.

“From the minute the overture started, I was mesmerized. My parents said I sat as if I was frozen for the two whole hours,” Panaro recalled.

From that moment on, Panaro knew there was nothing in the world he wanted more than to be in show business. Eventually, his piano teacher found him a voice teacher, and his journey had begun.

“One day, she took me to audition for The Sound of Music at the Huntingdon Valley Dinner Theater and I got a part. That’s when I knew I was on the right track.”

He went on to graduate from La Salle High School and decided to take off immediately for New York. But his parents had other plans.

“They told me if I went to New York without a college education, I was on my own. But if I got a college degree, they would help me with money and an apartment for the first year so I could concentrate on my career.”

Making a wise decision, Panaro went to Temple University to study classical voice.

“And the very day I graduated, I went up to New York to start pounding the pavements,” he said. “I was very lucky. Within two weeks, I landed my first off-Broadway show.”

He made his Broadway debut in Les Miserables as Marius. He has performed in many roles on Broadway and nationwide. Additionally, he toured with Barbra Streisand, but he might be best known for his performances in Phantom of the Opera. Today, Panaro, 50, said he’s looking forward to performing with the Pops.

“I’ll be singing predominantly holiday music, but in act two, audiences just might hear some music from one of my favorite shows.”

He said he’s also looking forward to releasing his first CD next year.

“You know, I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I get to do what I love to do practically every day of my life,” Panaro concluded. “Not many people get that chance in life” ••

For tickets, call 215–893–1999 or visit www.phillypops.com

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