The Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir holiday special celebrates its 20th year with PBS premiering December 12th

By: Dec. 06, 2023
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The Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir holiday special celebrates its 20th year with PBS premiering December 12, 2023. This perennial favorite, PBS’ #1 holiday show each year, this year features guest stars Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet performing with the 360-membered Tabernacle Choir and 110-piece Orchestra in the 21,000 seat Salt Lake City Conference Center. This program, titled Season of Light, was taped as a compilation of three performances last holiday season.

I had the opportunity to partake in a Zoom Q&A with Lea, Sir David and music director Mack Wilberg.

Both Lea and Sir David never having worked such a huge venue, were in awe of performing with the large choir and orchestra of volunteers in the huge 21,000-seat Salt Lake City Conference Center. Both emphasized the niceness and positive attitudes of all involved.

Lea sang a Filipino holiday favorite the haunting Payapang Daigdig in her native tongue Tagalog. This song was suggested by her brother, himself a musical director, when asked by musical director Mack Wilberg. When informed that Paypang Daigdig was the Philippines’ equivalent to Silent Night, Mack added snippets of Silent Night into his arrangement of Paypang Daigdig. Ironically, this isn’t Lea’s favorite Christmas song. That honor goes to Give Love on Christmas Day by the Jackson Five. Lea also stated that Christmas is such a big deal in the Philippines their Christmas season starts in September.

That song and the story of Sir Nicholas Winton narrated splendidly by Sir David were ironically prevalent to our current international state of affairs. Sir Nicholas Winton rescued 669 Jewish children from the Nazi-invaded Czechoslovakia securing their visas and host parents. Both segments promote goodness and peace for our world.

Interview: Lea Salonga & Sir David Suchet of SEASON OF LIGHT, CHRISTMAS WITH THE TABERNACLE CHOIR on PBS Lea is currently involved in two theatrical projects – producing Here Lies Love on Broadway and starring in Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends at the Gielgud in the West End. Lea was originally asked to perform in Here Lies Love but was already committed to Old Friends. She jumped at the chance to produce it. Lea explained “I had never produced anything on Broadway before, certainly not at that scale. But given the story and given that there was a very large group of Filipino and Filipino American producers that were on board, I felt, you know what, let's throw my hat into this too. See what this experience is going to be like. And it's certainly a very, very different experience from performing and from preparing to perform in that you all of a sudden grow a pair of eyes that sees other things outside of what you normally would when getting ready to get up on stage. The concerns that you start thinking about, that have nothing to do with performing all of a sudden place themselves in your line of sight. It's a different experience. The stress involved is different. As folks in this room who have produced things will testify to, but it's definitely unforgettable, and it's incredibly special. It's definitely something I will always take with me. And as we're producing more, maybe, we'll see.”

In Old Friends, among the classic Sondheim tunes Lea sings - Loving You (“which is appropriate because Stephen Sondheim actually got to hear me sing it before he passed away.”), Somewhere and Everything’s Coming Up Roses. Lea raved, “Bernadette Peters is a dream and a half to work with, incredibly generous, incredibly funny and incredibly kind. And the company that was assembled for this, I'm just consider myself a lucky duck to get to do this show in the West End every day.” Lea added that this West End season will be a first with three Filipino leads: Lea, herself in Old Friends, Nicole Scherzinger in Sunset Boulevard and Joaquin Pedro Valdes in Pacific Overtures.

Interview: Lea Salonga & Sir David Suchet of SEASON OF LIGHT, CHRISTMAS WITH THE TABERNACLE CHOIR on PBS Sir David expressed his excitement to go into rehearsals for his very first pantomine playing Captain Hook. “My first pantomime ever in 54 years. And I start two weeks rehearsal in January and then I go on a three-months tour of Poirot and More, which is my one-man show, which I'm really looking forward to.” I told Sir David that I had the incredible opportunity to see him as George opposite Dame Diana Rigg as Martha in a 1996 Almeida Theatre production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He reminisced, “It was one of the highlights of my whole career working with an extraordinary actress Diana Rigg and director Howard Davies. It may interest you to know that I was making a film in New York when I heard that Diana Rigg was going to be cast as Martha. I got on the telephone because I remember way back in 1976, I think it was seeing Ben Gazarra play George with Collen Dewhurst and I couldn't afford a ticket. I sat where what we call them the gods, and I said, ‘One day, I want to play George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? One day.’ As soon as I heard that, Diana Riggs was going to be doing it and I was by then of a certain age, I rang up my agent and I said,’ ‘I've got to tell you, I want that role. And I want you to put me up for it and push me for that role.’ And I got it and I couldn't believe it. Every day of rehearsal was a joy. Every night was the most amazing challenge. A lot of people see it as opposing, warring partners. But actually, Edward Albee wrote a story of love, about how a marriage can be saved against all odds. It was a wonderful experience for me.”

Asked the question of their respective favorite moments of taping this Christmas special, Sir David responded, “I have a very particular really fun moment. There are a huge amount of young children that gave their all during the rehearsals and during the performances. When I wasn't on stage, I was in my dressing room and watching the monitor of the show. And that's how I witnessed Lea’s wonderful song. There. I have to say that, professional to another professional, your commitment and your passion shined through that screen in my dressing room. It was an extraordinary moment, but the great thing, as soon after that I had to come on stage, and I was walking through this huge, long corridor, there are about 50 children passing me all about two foot three. And one of them actually stopped me and said, ‘Mr. I can't remember your name but good luck!” I thought it was so sweet. It was a very special moment for me. And they were terrific. And you'll see them in the show. They were absolutely wonderful.”

Interview: Lea Salonga & Sir David Suchet of SEASON OF LIGHT, CHRISTMAS WITH THE TABERNACLE CHOIR on PBS Lea’s answer: “Here's mine. So I had to learn ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory” which is traditionally the song at the end of these concerts. And there were only so many times to get it right. The first time I sang it, I did something wrong somewhere and I would mentally say, ‘I got another shot tomorrow. That's okay.’ And I was running out of chances. I think there was one day when Mack just turned around and was trying to get me back in because there was something that I couldn't quite latch on to rhythmically or I went ahead or it was behind or something, so he had to literally turn his whole body around just to get me back in and it was just looking at him and in my mind like okay, we're going to get this right tomorrow. And hopefully with all of that. It's something airable for me. But that is a tough one. That is a that's hard.’

For Mack, “Well, I think the only way that I can answer the question is to say that normally our PBS show is usually an hour. However, the full show is always shown on BYUtv, So we usually have to cut some things from the concert. And as we worked on the edit of the show, we just said there is not one moment of this that can be cut. And so we made a plea that if we could show the full hour and a half of the show, it would be really great. And we have. We want to thank PBS because they actually said we are fine with you showing the entire show. So you those who will be watching this both on both on BYUtv. We'll be seeing the entire show because there really wasn't a moment that we could cut from this and I have to just say that I don't have a favorite moment because whatever's happening at the moment is my favorite moment. And that's much credit to everybody involved, and particularly our two guest artists:  Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet.”

Season of Light, the Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir holiday special will premiere on PBS December 12, 2023, and on BYUtv December 17, 2023.


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