BWW Exclusive: Angels Among Us, Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert Featuring Kristin Chenoweth
When you think of your favorite Christmas traditions, you might think of decorating your tree with your family, sipping cider by a toasty fire, twinkling lights in every neighborhood, and most assuredly, the sound of your favorite Christmas songs playing in the background.
For Tony and Emmy-award winner Kristin Chenoweth (WICKED, PROMISES, PROMISES, GLEE, PUSHING DAISIES), one of her favorite Christmas traditions is watching the annual PBS Christmas concert featuring the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
"There were exactly three shows I watched on TV growing up. The Tabernacle Choir Christmas special. Miss America. And the Tony Awards."
Considering her early days were spent in the pageant world, followed by an assortment of Tony Award nominations and a win for YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, it was only fitting that she was finally able to check the Tabernacle Choir Christmas special off her list.
"This is a bucket list item," she said. It's the music that draws me in every time, and I'm so honored to be making music and celebrating the birth of Christ."
Needless to say, this collaboration was a long time coming. According to choir director Mack Wilberg, he's been aiming to bring Kristin to the show for close to ten years.
"As a result, I think that makes her being here even more special for us," Wilberg said.
And special is exactly the word every person who was lucky enough to attend the concert live would use to describe the performance, which you can catch on PBS and BYUtv this December. A DVD and album, "Angels Among Us," have already been released featuring Chenoweth, the Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra, and the Bells at Temple Square.
They say big things come in small packages, but it's absolutely undeniable when you hear Kristin sing.
"We're all completely overwhelmed and charmed by the incredible energy Kristin brings to the stage," said Wilberg.
And the feeling was definitely mutual.
Chenoweth had nothing but glowing reviews of the choir, turning to them during the concert and gushing, "You know how much I love you all."
It's no surprise, as the choir is one of the most prestigious in the world, with millions of streams online and multiple platinum records. Every year, hundreds of people across Utah audition for a coveted spot in the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. The standards are high and the competition is fierce. It's all for good reason though, which is evident once you've heard just what the choir is capable of.
When a group of 360 people can come together and sound as flawless as they do in their harmonies, especially on Christmas classics like "Mary, Did You Know?" and "What Child is This?" it's hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the Christmas season. But then you add in the effortless High E Flat during Kristin's rendition of "O, Holy Night," and the magic in the air is palpable.
Few people can hit a High E Flat, and it was promptly met with a standing ovation from the 21,000 member audience who filled the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the weekend of Dec. 13-15, 2018. A grand total of 63,000 came to hear Chenoweth perform with the choir during its annual Christmas concert last year, which will air on PBS December 16, and on BYUtv December 19. BroadwayWorld was there for all of it, and even got to take a peek behind the scenes.
The concert boasts 360 choir members, 110 members of the orchestra, 36 bell players and another 100 volunteer dancers. Not to mention the more than 100 lighting experts, videographers, audio recorders, prop creators, set designers and costume specialists! Needless to say, this concert is one for the books.
Rehearsals began in person in early November, but plenty of at-home training is also required. The choir has to memorize every piece of music prior to the live performances, with just four weeks' notice! There is an extensive audition process and even more arduous process for the music selection and arranging. Fortunately, choir president Ron Jarrett and choir director Mack Wilberg have been part of this show for many years.
The two worked with Kristin in advance to choose several songs, while others are staples of the Christmas concert special. It's no easy feat narrowing down the songs, considering the Tabernacle's music library holds more than a million pieces of music, a quarter of which is dedicated to Christmas music, and is ever growing as Wilberg continues to create new arrangements to add to their assortment.
"Kristin is so versatile, and we wanted to feature that versatility. We had some ideas, and when we met with her, she was brimming with ideas. We took both and put them together and found a good mix," said Wilberg.
It wouldn't be a concert featuring Kristin Chenoweth if there wasn't at least a little bit of humor thrown in. Among her many quips throughout the evening, the biggest laugh came when she made a surprise appearance with the bell ringers, trying to use a bell that was perhaps a little too big for her. Organist Richard Elliott was more than pleased with her idea.
"It's just such a kick for me to have Kristin involved in this piece, especially since she wanted to be involved with playing the hand bells. The bell players were thrilled to be part of the collaboration," Elliott said.
Chenoweth said before the show, though, that she was the one who was thrilled to be part of this entire production.
"This show is part of my DNA, and I'm so very honored to be part of this and to get to share the stage with Mack and the choir," Chenoweth said.
As the 15th choir director in the choir's 150-year history, Wilberg truly feels the weight of his role and what this concert means to the community.
"It's a big responsibility and important component to be such a huge part of this Utah tradition, especially for free. It's almost unheard of to offer a program of this magnitude for free, but it's our gift to the community," he said.
And not just the Utah community. The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is the highest rated holiday program on PBS, viewed by millions of people each year.
If while you're viewing, you find yourself thinking that the choir looks as perfect as they sound, that's because they make sure of it! They are even seated by height - everyone on a row should match and look the same. If someone is too tall or too short, they simply use small carpeted stools to make everyone the same height.
And while the choir is preparing their costumes and vocals, and the dancers and orchestra rehearse their parts, there is also a crew working diligently behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly for each performance, and getting every cue just right for the big broadcast. The show requires more than 200 cues, 1,900 light fixtures, elaborate props, whimsical light-up gift boxes, snow falling into the crowd, teleprompters, cutting, mixing, and editing. All of which are completely reliant on the 100+ volunteers who make this happen each year.
"If you had to pay the performers and people who volunteer, you couldn't do a show of this caliber. The spirit of the volunteer is the epitome of the performance. From the sewing of the costumes, to the sets and lighting, to the 600 performers, it's quite a remarkable organization and event," beamed Wilberg.
As you will see, no detail is overlooked when it comes to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert, from the lighting on stage to the glitter polish on Chenoweth's nails. In fact, the only thing that shined brighter than Chenoweth's Christian Siriano gowns was her dazzling voice backed by the stunning Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
"The process itself has just been magical. So many of us have come here to be part of it, and the choir and volunteers are all people who are just like me - finding common ground in music," said Chenoweth.
May we all find some common ground this Christmas season! You can start by watching this captivating concert when it airs nationwide on PBS and BYUtv this holiday season.
A 60-minute version of the program will premiere on PBS Monday, December 16, at 9 p.m. ET.
The full 90-minute version will air on BYUtv Thursday, December 19, at 7 and 10 p.m. ET.
For information on additional airings of the concert, and for information on future Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square concerts, please visit https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/.
Photo credit: © 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.