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Guest artist Fontana tells stories through song at Tabernacle Choir concert

Published: Friday, July 18 2014 10:30 p.m. MDT

Guest performer Santino Fontana performs with the Tabernacle Choir at the annual Pioneer Day concert Friday, July 18, 2014, in Salt Lake City at the Conference Center.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Concert publicists had warned there would be no songs from the Disney movie “Frozen,” despite the presence of guest artist Santino Fontana, one of the main voices in that animated feature.

But an usher assured an 11-year-old, “You’re going to love this; there’s some Disney stuff!” as the boy entered the Conference Center auditorium for Friday night’s performance of this year’s Pioneer Day Concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

Sure enough, the choir and orchestra performed a medley of “Whistle While You Work” (with choir members providing authentic whistling) and Heigh Ho!” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” followed up with “When You Wish upon a Star,” written by native Utahn Leigh Harline for the movie “Pinocchio.”

But that was only one segment of the program, largely a 90-minute potpourri of sparkling show tunes showcasing the talent of Fontana, who made his Broadway debut seven years ago.

In fact, during his initial segment at the concert, he performed “Ten Minutes Ago” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” for which he was nominated last year for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

Fontana greeted his “soon to be 21,000 new friends,” and described his invitation to the concert: “A while ago I got a phone call. ‘Santino, have you ever been to Salt Lake City?’ No. ‘Have you ever sung with a 100-piece orchestra?’ No. ‘Have you ever sung with a 160-voice choir?’ I think I’d remember that, but no. ‘Have you ever sung in a 21,000 seat hall?’ What? ‘Do you want to?’ YES!”

That the group he would perform with would be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Mack Wilberg conducting was “the cherry on top,” he said.

Santino quipped that one could take all the Broadway theaters he had performed in “and fit them into this wonderful facility.”

He said he is a storyteller at heart and “we came up with a selection of songs from Broadway shows and movies that all tell a story.” Among shows represented were “West Side Story,” “Camelot,” “Promises, Promises” and "Peter Pan."

As a memento of the occasion, the guest artist took a moment to take a couple of “selfies” with his smartphone, one with the choir and one with the audience.

Fontana introduced the concluding number by acknowledging the fact that his character in “Frozen” (spoiler alert here) is the bad guy, and that he couldn’t leave Salt Lake City on a down note, so that was why there was nothing from the movie in the concert.

“I wanted to sing something that the good guy would sing,” he said, “and I wanted to do something that was a first for this venue. I think the choir will agree with me that this fits the bill.”

What followed was a medley of a dozen or so upbeat songs, all with the word “Happy” in them, arranged for the occasion by Sam Cardon and Bob Stillman, marked by audience hand clapping and performer showmanship, including a brief moment of Fontana accompanying himself at an upright piano.

The concert’s second and final performance is today at 8 p.m. It will be streamed live on the Internet at motab.org/pioneerday and broadcast live on BYUtv.

The performance is sold out, but standby seating may be available. A line for tickets will form at the north gate of Temple Square. There were empty seats at the Friday performance, so your chances might be good.

rscott@deseretnews.com

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