Music director Mack Wilberg looked around with a puzzled expression when Lloyd Newell announced guest artist Kristin Chenoweth‘s entrance at the Tabernacle at Temple Square‘s Christmas concert Thursday night, the first of three concert nights, but she was nowhere to be seen onstage.
“I’m down here amongst the people, hello,” Chenoweth said, revealing her location at the back of the audience.
Chenoweth — a singer and actress known for her stage, film and TV roles in productions like “Pushing Daisies,” “Glee,” “Wicked,” “The West Wing,” Disney’s “Descendants” and “The Muppets” — mingled with the crowd at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City as she made her way down the aisle to the stage, complimenting a woman’s outfit and signing an autograph.
“Did I see you at the mall last night?” Chenoweth asked an audience member. “I love that Nordstrom. You guys have the best mall. I’m just going to say it.”
The guest artist’s exuberance entertained to the max from the start. As she sang her first song of the night, “We Need a Little Christmas,” Chenoweth inserted comments here and there like, “Oh, yuck,” after the song mentions fruitcake and asking the audience, “Should I go up?” before hitting two high notes at the end of the number.
“Mack, I just want you to know I did that high E flat for you. Did you like it?” Chenoweth asked Wilberg. “My whole goal is to make him blush.”
The audience laughed as Wilberg’s face subsequently turned a shade of red.
“I’ve achieved my goal,” Chenoweth sang in an opera voice.
The mood then changed as Chenoweth sang a beautiful rendition of “O Holy Night,” inspired by the version Sandi Patty, her favorite singer, performed when she was the choir’s Christmas concert guest artist.
“I wanted to pay homage to her with this beautiful orchestra behind me,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth struck a good balance between the light-hearted and serious moments of the show and demonstrated her versatility in singing various musical styles from opera to country, performing songs including “Mary, Did You Know?,” “Come On, Ring Those Bells,” “What Child Is This?” and “The Christmas Waltz,” during which she waved over a man from the choir to waltz with her for a few moments.
She played many roles throughout the night, temporarily joining the choir during the audience sing-along number, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” dressed in the same white dress and colorful scarf as the women in the group.
Chenoweth also donned a black outfit to match the members of Bells on Temple Square surrounding the organ as she lugged a bell seemingly half her size onstage to ring it out a few times during organist Richard Elliott’s “Carol of the Bells,” switching it out for a smaller bell at the finish.
“I was actually part of a bell choir in school, I was, and I was always hankering to play one of those big bells, you know, the boomers, the two-handed ones. But rising to my full height of, oh, I don’t know what it was back then, 4 foot on a good day, I always got stuck with a little piccolo bell, the teeny, tiny ones,” Chenoweth had said earlier in the concert. “But then after a while, it didn’t matter so much because I got to sing about ringing those bells for the most important reason of all, to herald in the birth of Jesus, and who knows, maybe someday, someone will give me a chance to, you know, play one of those big, grown-up bells. I hope someone around here heard that. Do you think they did?”
She talked about her childhood family Christmas traditions, like reading the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, lighting candles on Christmas Eve and saying what they were each most thankful for, and bringing dinner to someone in need.
Her narration was O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” about a poor young husband and wife who secretly sell their most prized possessions to buy each other Christmas gifts.
“The best gifts do not come in packages,” Chenoweth said after relating the story. “What makes them valuable is not what they cost to buy, but what they cost to give. The child in Bethlehem gave a gift not even kings could afford: his perfect life and pure love for all.”
Chenoweth choked up as she introduced “Angels Among Us,” remembering a Christmas when her family brought dinner to an aunt who was very sick and later died, and who Chenoweth has since considered her angel. She then pointed out two of her aunts in attendance, calling them her angels as well.
“The truth is, Christmas is all about angels, unsung heroes who change us for the better. Some are no longer with us, but many are,” Chenoweth said. “Tonight, we join together to pay tribute to Christmas angels everywhere, to caregivers, defenders, activists, rescuers, protectors, to our angel mothers and angel friends, to all the angels among us.”
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square also impressed the audience with their solo numbers.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square opened the concert with a triumphant interpretation of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” with the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble and sang classics like “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from “Messiah,” “Somewhere in My Memory” from “Home Alone” and “Fill the World with Love” from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” during the performance.
The Orchestra played a fun medley of selections from “The Nutcracker,” including “March of the Toy Soldiers,” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Russian Dance (Trepak).”
Dancers dressed in white also took the stage periodically, dancing down the aisles and carrying festive props, like glowing gift boxes that lit up in different colors to match the large gift box decorations walled with screens at the sides of the stage.
The Luke 2 narration this year featured a sweet video of young families around the world reading the Bible story together, some in different languages.
The concert concluded with the choir’s traditional rendition of “Angels From the Realms of Glory,” featuring Chenoweth’s shimmering soprano opera voice and ending with a high note that brought audience members to their feet and beckoned a repeat of the final chorus.
“I can literally feel the love hurling towards me,” Chenoweth told the audience. “Thank you.”