Christmas joy: Kristin Chenoweth highlights annual Tabernacle Choir holiday concert

Even in high heels, Kristin Chenoweth won’t be remembered among the tallest artists to ever perform on the Conference Center stage.

But no one will likely forget how the charismatic actress/singer filled the vast hall with her towering voice and playful enthusiasm.

Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square music director Mack Wilberg had hinted the annual Christmas concert would showcase Chenoweth’s renowned versatility. He wasn’t fibbing.

The popular Chenoweth's repertoire of songs Thursday ranged from the traditional (“What Child Is This?”) to country-influenced contemporary (“Mary, Did You Know?”) to a beloved favorite from the silver screen (“We Need a Little Christmas”).

Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

The opening stanzas of Mendelssohn’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” — performed by the combined Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square — invoked the holiday spirit of the evening.

Hundreds of singers, musicians, dancers and trumpeters set the stage for Chenoweth, who weaved her way up to the front of the venue from one of the Conference Center aisles.

“Is this your first time?” she stopped to ask a surprised concertgoer named Steve.

“No,” Steve answered.

“Please pray for me,” she laughed before pulling out a Sharpie and scribbling an autograph for a clearly starstruck fan.

And then it was on to her first number, a light-hearted performance of “We Need a Little Christmas."

“Mac, I want you to know I hit that high E-flat for you,” the soprano told Wilberg at one point.

Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

“I loved it,” said the smiling conductor.

“My whole goal is to make him blush,” she said, drawing laughs from the filled-to-capacity Conference Center audience.

Between songs, she shared Christmas memories from her childhood. “I grew up in Oklahoma; not so different from Utah, right?"

The traditional food and holiday fun were special — but Christmas is “about the birth of Christ,” she said. One special family memory was taking a holiday meal to folks in need.

The anchoring purpose of the evening — rejoicing in the birth of Jesus Christ — was celebrated in songs such as “O Holy Night”, “Mary, Did You Know?” and the French carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

The talents of the Church-sponsored groups were richly displayed Thursday. The Orchestra performed selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker." Meanwhile, Choir organist Richard Elliot found all the right keys in “Carol of the Bells” — that included some humor-tinged assistance from Chenoweth, who rang a massive bell that she hefted across the stage.

Even the audience blended into the cast, joining the Choir, Orchestra and Chenoweth for “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“Music,” Wilberg told the audience, “is the gift that brings everyone together.”

Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Chenoweth also proved a skilled storyteller with her telling of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”

The evening concluded with a video-reading of Luke 2 and Chenoweth and the Choir and Orchestra performing "Angels from the Realms of Glory," bringing the Conference Center audience to its feet.

The Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert will be staged again on Friday and Saturday evening.

The holiday special will be available on DVD next year. It will also air on PBS and BYUtv in December 2019.