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Will pops prove popular?

Maureen McGovern headlines the roster of guest artists appearing with the Florida Orchestra during the 1992-93 Super Pops concerts. Skitch Henderson returns for his seventh season asmusic director of the pops concerts, which alternate with Masterworks concerts and Coffee and Champagne concerts of light classics.

In all, the orchestra will play 21 concerts in a seven-week pops season. Henderson will conduct four of the three-concert programs, one more than during the current season. The schedule was released by the orchestra this week.

McGovern, who will perform Jan. 22-24, is best known nowadays for her appearances on Garrison Keillor's Saturday evening public radio program, as well as for her concerts with symphony orchestras. In 1973, the singer had a number one record, The Morning After.

In general, the upcoming pops series has somewhat more star power than the 1991-92 season, whose biggest name was dancer-singer Chita Rivera, doing numbers from West Side Story in January.

Along with McGovern, the lineup includes pianist Roger Williams, whose hits include Autumn Leaves (1955) and Born Free (1966). Williams will play with the orchestra Feb. 26-28.

The season opens Sept. 25-27 with a tribute to the Gershwins, featuring pianist William Bolcom and his wife, singer Joan Morris, who are renowned for their renditions of popular American music from the old days.

It's an axiom in the orchestra business that pops programs need themes, and the 1992-93 season has a variety of them: an Irish program, with tenor Thomas Fallon, March 26-28; South Pacific and other show tunes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, May 15-17; Stars and Stripes Forever, the April 15-18 concerts of Sousa marches, conducted by Keith Brion.

The Oct. 23-25 concerts feature James Westwater's "photochoreography," a presentation of photographs projected on large screens above the orchestra. One of Westwater's programs, for example, is called Heartland Suite, with images of Americana and music by Aaron Copland.

Pops concerts are important to the orchestra in a financial sense. In the current season, pops series subscription revenue amounts to almost $500,000, out of total ticket revenue of just under $2-million. The number of pops subscribers in 1991-92 is down slightly from the previous season, and orchestra officials hope that the addition of McGovern and Williams, along with one more appearance on the podium by the popular Henderson, will boost sales.

Concerts are at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Sunday performances at Ruth Eckerd Hall next season will be an hour earlier, at 7 p.m. For information about subscriptions, call the orchestra box office at 447-4210 in Pinellas, 286-2403 in Hillsborough.

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