Longtime alumni and parents of freshmen alike crowded into Conte Forum for the 27th Annual Pops on The Heights, excited to experience a performance by the Tony and Grammy award-winning Leslie Odom Jr. Upon entering the venue, attendees encountered a dazzling display—multicolored string lights and glowing orbs hung from the ceiling, twinkling above the bustling sold-out crowd. This year’s theme, “Broadway at The Heights,” featured songs and showtunes all generations know and love—and as an original Hamilton cast member, Odom Jr. fit right in with the night’s theatrical essence.
Pops on The Heights has been one of Boston College’s flagship events for quite some time now—and over 27 years, it has raised over $80 million for over 3,000 scholarships. This year alone, the event amassed $12.3 million—giving 427 students the opportunity to receive a BC education.
This year, there was an unprecedented focus on BC students. Time and time again, performers, organizers, and guests honored the students that form the patchwork of the BC community, often offering uplifting words to those in the audience.
“You are the heart and soul of this great institution,” said John Fish, Co-Chair of Pops on The Heights. “Continue to dream big.”
The event began with the Boston Pops and Conductor Keith Lockhart performing various well-known songs from Broadway plays new and old, from the 1980 musical 42nd Street to Frozen. From the very first song, it was clear it would be a joyful night, as Lockhart danced onstage during “42nd Street” while a fellow musician skillfully placed his hands inside tap shoes to recreate every aspect of the song. Those playing the bass even spun their instruments around to the beat of the song, allowing for an unusually playful atmosphere to kick off the evening. The University Chorale, directed by John Finney, joined in on the lighthearted music on the following song, “It’s A Grand Night For Singing,” from the 1996 Broadway production of State Fair.
As the night progressed, the visual effects and lighting only grew more impressive. Colorful orbs floated just above the heads of those sitting on the floor. Bright screens formed a gold frame around the stage, making Conte look like an old Broadway theater in New York City. The atmosphere continuously shifted from opulent to playful and back again, ultimately reflecting the dual-realities of the event itself—as if to showcase pride in a multi-million dollar gala without forgetting that it’s taking place in a college hockey and basketball arena.
Songs from popular Disney musicals were a guaranteed hit—the audience lit up as the Pops performed “Let It Go” under a dazzling array of blue lights twinkling magically across the arena. Deep blue glowing orbs moved in a wave across Conte, prompting many to take out their phones and snap a video the impressive effects. “Circle of Life” was another fan favorite—The Lion King is loved across generations, and it showed on the faces of audience members as the Pops were once again joined by the Chorale for the classic tune.
Pops on The Heights wouldn’t be complete without its annual student performer, and this year was no different. Natalie Marsan, MCAS ’21, stunned the crowd as she sang “When I Look at You,” from The Scarlet Pimpernel, alongside the Pops. She sang the ballad with passion and purpose, and was immediately awarded with an explosive standing ovation.
After the intermission, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived and Odom Jr. stepped onstage. The crowd erupted in cheers when he immediately launched into “Wait For It,” one of his most popular songs off the Hamilton soundtrack. His smooth voice slid into every nook and cranny of the arena as he sang into the lenses of thousands of cameras with FaceTime and Snapchat open.
He shifted away from Hamilton songs for the majority of his set, instead performing a variety of jazz songs that suited the evening perfectly. Lights above the stage twinkled and glistened as he sang a stripped-down version of “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole—it was just him and a piano. He included a song from Rent, one of his pre-Hamilton broadway ventures—in which he awed the audience with his impressive vocal talents, hitting amazing notes left and right, seemingly without effort.
Odom Jr. continued the theme of honoring the students in the crowd.
“I know there are a lot of grateful, grateful kids here tonight,” Odom Jr. started, making his way down the stairs into the audience, a glass of champagne in his hand. “Let’s raise a glass to all of them tonight.”
He then launched into an a capella rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Needless to say, there were no dry eyes in the room.
He closed out with some relevant remarks stemming from his time on Hamilton. He reflected on the show’s lasting legacy, one which “created a table to share with everyone … people my age share the show with their kids and their parents, regardless of age or party…”
From there he launched into “Dear Theodosia” and ultimately the token piece, “Room Where It Happens.” Those who weren’t familiar with Hamilton were rightfully confused, but most of the audience sang along, thrilled to be seeing one of the show’s original performers in person. As Odom Jr. left the stage, the Pops were joined by BC’s marching band to close out the show with a rendition of “For Boston,” followed by the patriotic “Stars and Stripes Forever,” complete with the yearly tradition of thousands of balloons falling from above and loudly exploding upon another widely-successful gala.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Photo Editor