SALT LAKE CITY — Acclaimed British actor Hugh Bonneville congratulated the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at a press conference on Dec. 15 for the “extraordinary tradition” it has achieved through its annual Christmas concerts.
“The love and the commitment that these people who are volunteering give to this is extraordinary,” Bonneville said. “To know that some 500 or 600 people are coming together for the single purpose of a celebration — a celebration through music and word and dance — it’s a rare experience.”
Bonneville, guest narrator at this year’s concerts, along with guest artist and Broadway performer Sutton Foster, choir director Mack Wilberg and choir president Ron Jarrett, met briefly at the Conference Center on Friday morning to answer questions from the media.
Foster spoke highly of her experience performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the first night of the concerts.
“As soon as I walked onstage, I just was so overwhelmed by the spirit of the season,” Foster said. “It was truly, truly moving.”
The Tony-winning actress, who celebrates her 9-month-old daughter’s first Christmas this month, said family was the theme that stood out as she selected songs to perform at the concerts. Her set list includes John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which she dedicated to her mom, who passed away a couple of years ago.
“For me, it was about family, just the idea of my new family and … celebrating these people who have passed,” Foster said.
She talked about her special connection with the Beehive State, which started in 1999 while on a touring production of "Les Miserables," where she met a young girl from Utah in the cast and became close to the girl’s family.
“They basically adopted me on that tour, and I just fell in love with their family,” Foster said. “I feel like I was really introduced to the community through them firsthand, and they just have taken me in.”
Foster said she was excited when the first invitation to perform as the choir’s Christmas guest artist came a couple of years ago, but because of another commitment that came up, she was unable to make the concerts work at that time.
“When the opportunity came back again, I just jumped on it,” Foster said. “I got rid of everything else so I could be here, and I’m so glad I did because it’s just an experience unlike anything else.”
Bonneville’s performance with the choir similarly took some time to arrange, but he said the result has been both “a great honor” and “an overwhelming experience.”
“To us from out of town, it’s quite an experience to come into this vast arena, which all at the same time feels like a home,” Bonneville said. “That’s what I think the expression of this concert is all about. It’s about creating an atmosphere that’s both huge in scale but also intimate in content.”
Wilberg explained how his experience with both of this year’s guest artists preceded the concerts. He said although he doesn’t attend many Broadway productions, he was impressed when he saw Foster in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in New York several years ago.10 comments on this story
“I was totally captivated and delighted by that production and particularly by Sutton Foster,” Wilberg said. “I have since that time followed her, and so when her name several years ago was mentioned, I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The conductor and composer was likewise impressed when he heard Bonneville do a Christmas reading at a concert in London a few years ago.
“I remember sitting in the audience and thinking, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be great? But it’d probably never happen,’ and here we are,” Wilberg said. “Having both of these artists with us is just really a dream come true.”