Richard Thomas Previews His ‘Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir’ Special With Kelli O’Hara
Nothing quite prepared Richard Thomas for being a part of this holiday tradition.
“It’s the Grand Canyon of concert experiences,” he says of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir Featuring Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas, the spectacle staged at Salt Lake City’s 21,000-seat Temple Square auditorium. “No matter what your faith, it’s a profound experience if you let yourself be open to it.” PBS airs an hour version of the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra and Bells’ performance; BYUtv their full 90-minute, Americana-themed program.
Highlights of the 17th annual event, filmed in 2019, include Oklahoma-bred Tony winner Kelli O’Hara performing a trio of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s tunes (“A Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific, “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from The King and I and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music), as well as a dreamy rendition of the lullaby “A Cradle in Bethlehem” and the soaring closer “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” Thomas, meanwhile, tugs at the heartstrings with a joyous reading of Pearl S. Buck’s “Christmas Day in the Morning.”
It’s the story of a man recalling how he discovered the spirit of the season when he was 15, through his love for his farmer father, and reclaiming it 50 years later, through his love for his wife. Both the tale — and the country farmhouse set — were deeply personal to Thomas, and not just because people still shout “Goodnight, John-Boy” at him more than 40 years after he left The Waltons (“It’s a constant refrain, and I love it,” he says).
As he explains to the audience, he grew up spending summers at his grandparents’ farm in the hills of eastern Kentucky. Christmas, too, has always had a special place in his heart; raised in Manhattan, he’d watch from the orchestra pit as his dancer parents performed The Nutcracker with the New York City Ballet.
“It’s my favorite time of year. And I’m especially in love with Christmas music,” he says, adding that he’s long been a fan of the 360-member Choir. “I drive my family completely up a tree. They don’t always want to hear 12th-century French Christmas music, but I do.”
Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir Featuring Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas, Monday, December 14, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org); Thursday, December 17, 8/7c, BYUtv