MSO presents 'Valentine Romance' program

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Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

“When you get booked for a Pops concert in the middle of February,” John Morris Russell says, “the theme seems a little obvious.”

Russell conducts the Cincinnati Pops and has guest conducted orchestras across North America. But he’s never been to Milwaukee before, a lapse he’ll correct by conducting the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Pops concert Valentine Romance, Feb. 14 to 16.

“I’ve always heard fantastic things about the Milwaukee Symphony,” he says. “It’s a great thrill to be working with them.” 

Rusesell has a “wide swath” of music planned for the show, he says, with the orchestra set to play everything from opera to Broadway numbers. A total of 20 musical pieces will celebrate the romantic music we’ve grown to love since classical times.

Guest soprano Lisa Vroman, a longtime Broadway star who’s best known for a several-year stint as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera in both New York and San Francisco, will sing a number of songs from her repertoire. That include pieces from The Music Man, West Side Story and, of course, Phantom.

Performers from Milwaukee’s Danceworks Performance Company are set to appear in the program as well. Danceworks artistic director Dani Kuepper says the partnership came about in part as a result of a shared children’s outreach program with MSO last year. She worked with Russell to choose songs that would be good for the program and easy for DPC to pull together.

One of the selected songs is the tango “Por Una Cabeza,” a sensual choice for the Pops program and an interesting one for Danceworks, a contemporary company that doesn’t focus on ballroom dancing.

Kuepper says the number is nonetheless a great one for the group. DPC dancers Melissa Anderson, Christal Wagner and guest dancers Edwin Olvera and Jorge Quintero all have experience in ballroom or tango. The routine is a modified version of a previous performance that took fundamentals of the tango closer to Danceworks’ unique aesthetic.

“It’s certainly not a traditional tango,” Kuepper says. “We’ve infused a physical lifting that’s a bit more abstract  . . . and we’re playing a little bit on the sexuality, with the partners all trading places with each other.”

That’s just one of the many ways in which Russell’s program explores the idea of romance — with each way designed for a different type of audience member than the next.

“We all have to work really hard to shift gears from one style to the next,” he says – but he loves putting his heart into every one.

On stage

The MSO will perform its Valentine Romance program at 8 p.m. on Fri., Feb. 14, and Sat., Feb. 15, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 16. Guest artists from Danceworks Performance Company are part of the program. Tickets are $25 to $105. Call 414-291-7605 or visit