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Philadelphia Native Hugh Panaro On The Philly POPS Christmas Spectacular

By Pat Ciarrocchi

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philly Pops Christmas Spectacular is on stage at the Kimmel Center.

This year, there is a distinctive “Philly” touch to the program.

The headline soloist is Hugh Panaro, who was born, raised and trained here to be the Broadway star that he’s become.

In his Olney home, Hugh told CBS 3’s Pat Ciarrocchi how his love of music kicked into a higher gear. It was one night after seeing the musical “Annie” on Broadway when he was 12.

“I sat down at this piano and played…‘Maybe far away and maybe real nearby” … and just started playing what I could remember by ear,” said Hugh.

His mother, Joan, who still lives in Hugh’s childhood home, said she didn’t know he could sing.

Ten years after that, Hugh – who graduated from Temple – found his first spotlight on Broadway, as Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Many lead roles, including those in “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Les Miserables,” followed.

But this season, with the Philly Pops, Hugh is home for the holidays.

His repertoire, with Pops Conductor David Charles Abell, is all about Christmas.

That is, until he sings a standing ovation show stopper, “Bring Him Home” from Les Miz.

“In the Les Miz world, we actually refer to it as, ‘The Prayer,’” said Hugh. “ We did our first show in honor of the military… all the men and women who are still not home with their families at Christmas. For me, it’s very personal, because I lost my Dad three years ago.”

Hugh’s mother says she cries every time she hears that.

This weekend, Hugh has 40 family members coming to see him. “No pressure!” he said with a laugh.

“As performers, the best thing we can do…is pull away the curtain and try to let somebody see your soul for that five minutes they get to hear you sing.”

Right now, instead of playing a role, the concert stage is calling Hugh – the Philly boy who played the organ in his parish church for $5 a Mass.

“I don’t think many performers live for the applause. That is so not what it is for me. It’s about the communication that comes across the footlights. And that to me is them saying, ‘We get you. We appreciate you.’”

The Philly Pops Christmas Spectacular is at the Kimmel Center through December 20th. For tickets, visit: www.theartsinphilly.org.

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