Thousands of people gathered in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for a full-scale production of world-class music, dance and storytelling involving more than 600 volunteers.
Broadway artist Sutton Foster and British actor Hugh Bonneville joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City Thursday night, December 14, 2017, for the first of three performances to celebrate the Christmas season. The 18th annual Christmas concert from the Conference Center also features the Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square.
“Just as soon as I walked on stage I was so overwhelmed by the spirit of the season,” said Foster at a Friday morning news conference. She is best known for her Tony Award-winning roles on Broadway.
The concert begins with “Joy to the World,” complete with trumpets. Following the opening processional, Foster joins the choir and orchestra to sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” followed by “Christmas Time Is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” She also performs “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” a John Denver classic that is one of her signature songs from Broadway.
“I know it’s not a Christmas song, but I really want to sing that, and I would love to dedicate it to my mom. And then I wanted to sing ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ because it’s my favorite Christmas song,” explained Foster.
“I’m thrilled,” said Bonneville, who is the narrator at this year’s concert. “The choir’s work is world famous. This particular concert has been on my radar for a long time.”
He is recognized for his portrayal of Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham in ITV/PBS Masterpiece’s British drama series “Downton Abbey.”
Bonneville shares a message about joy and peace at Christmas as he relates a story titled “It Is Well with My Soul” during the performance.
“It is a tale of great sorrow but great fortitude and finding strength in adversity and courage in the darkness,” he explained. “I think that spirit of drawing on the past as a sort of platform for the future is one of the themes that runs tradition.”
Bonneville continued, “It’s about creating an atmosphere that is both huge in scale but also intimate in content and emotional content, and that’s a very special experience.”
“I respect and celebrate all faiths. And this time of year for so many religions is a time of coming together. This is a time, of course, for the Christian tradition of celebrating the nativity of Christ and the great story that unfolded from that,” he said.
The audience also experienced amazing visual effects in the Conference Center, which seats 21,000 guests. The stage has been transformed into a ship.
The audience is taken on a virtual sleigh ride as the orchestra plays Leroy Anderson’s classic “Sleigh Ride.”
Organist Richard Elliott is joined by members of the orchestra to perform “I Saw Three Ships.”
Choir music director Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, associate music director, conduct the music for the concert.
“I don’t know if there’s anywhere else in the world where you can go, free of charge, and be able to experience this kind of thing, and so it truly is a gift,” said Wilberg.
“Amazingly it all kind of comes together. And there’s something about the addition of the audience, that it’s the final piece,” said Foster.
“It is as professional as professional,” added Bonneville “It’s a rare experience to be able to share it with so many people not only live but on camera; [It’s] quite something, and I congratulate you. It’s an extraordinary tradition you’ve achieved.”
Christmas performances are also scheduled for Friday and Saturday night. Complimentary tickets for the sold-out concerts were distributed in October, but a standby line at the north gate of Temple Square is available for guests both evenings. Patrons in this line will be seated in the Tabernacle and taken to the Conference Center to fill any empty seats. The concert will be screened live on big screens in the Tabernacle for those not getting into the Conference Center.
On Sunday morning, December 17, both guest artists will appear on the 30-minute broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word.” No advance tickets are required, but guests need to be in their seats at the Conference Center by 9:15 a.m.
One of Broadway’s most accomplished performers, Sutton Foster has starred in 11 Broadway shows, including her Tony Award-winning roles in “Anything Goes” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as well as originating roles in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Shrek the Musical.” Foster also stars as Liza in the critically acclaimed TV Land comedy series “Younger” and previously starred in “Bunheads.”
Hugh Bonneville received a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations for his role in “Downton Abbey.” His many film credits include “Notting Hill,” “Iris,” “The Monuments Men” and “Paddington.” Most recently Bonneville starred in “Viceroy’s House,” in which he portrayed Lord Mountbatten. He made a celebrated return to the stage last year in Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” at Chichester Theatre.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir members are ambassadors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Grammy Award-winning, multiple Emmy Award-winning choir is made up of 360 men and women who are accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, a 150-member symphony, and the Bells on Temple Square, a 32-member handbell choir. All the members of the choir, orchestra and handbell choir are volunteers.
The annual Christmas concerts have attracted thousands of people to Temple Square for the Christmas season for more than a decade. The free performances are seen by tens of thousands each year as well as millions more in 60-minute PBS television specials. Also, this year the full 90-minute 2016 concert featuring Rolando Villazón is being shown on BYUtv.