The annual Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square’s Christmas Concert this weekend is one of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ holiday gifts to the area. This year’s concert features Broadway star Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas, who starred as John-Boy in the television series “The Waltons.”

“This is the ultimate invitation,” O’Hara said. “The spiritual power is overwhelming.”

O’Hara grew up singing in small choirs and church choirs in Oklahoma and said when she was given the chance to sing with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, she jumped at it.

O’Hara has been nominated seven times for Tony Awards and was named best female actor in 2015 for her role as Anna in the Broadway reprise of “The King and I.”

Richard Thomas said he has had a lifetime connection to the Tabernacle Choir.

“I had LPs of the choir in my home when I was young,” Thomas said. “It’s Christmas, and Christmas is my thing.”

Thomas added that to be able to perform for even a brief moment with O’Hara on the same stage is a great opportunity.

“This venue is astonishing,” Thomas said. “The spiritual aura of the artists is palpable. I’m honored.”

Director Mack Wilberg returned the feeling.

“We are very honored both (performers) are with us,” Wilberg said. “This concert reflects their talents.”

Choir president Ron Jarrett added, “This is a great year ... it will be monumental.”

When asked if she had discussed the invitation with others from Broadway who have sung with the choir, O’Hara said she has chatted with some of her friends.

“I just did a concert with Matt Morrison who was here last year,” she said.

As for the Utah hospitality, the singers said they felt very welcomed.

“You immediately feel taken care of,” O’Hara said. “Everyone is so nice.”

Knowing that most people still see him as John-Boy, Thomas said there is a connection of sorts to the John-Boy character with what he will be performing, but he said, “I’m just going to bring me. All I can bring is myself.”

The performers met with Wilberg several months ago in New York City to discuss the program and the elements he would like to see in the concert.

O’Hara will be singing a special Christmas song that has become very near and dear to her, he said.

As for how long it takes to prepare the concerts, the choir got their music about three to four weeks ago and have been memorizing. On Wednesday night, they met together for a dress rehearsal with O’Hara and Thomas. They have been discussing the concert for nearly a year.

The church’s Conference Center can be overwhelming for stage performers, O’Hara said.

“We are live theater animals and desire to fill up space, which is nearly an impossible challenge to stay intimate,” O’Hara said. “In here you feel the intimacy.”

Thomas said his desire is to lift everyone. “This house feels amazingly intimate for the size.”

O’Hara thanked the 365-voice choir. “Everyone is so trained and technical, it felt like a wash of sound.”

Thomas was looking forward to have an audience and to enjoy the music, message and season of the concert.

“It’s always a wonderful time to come together to give a message of love, just to share in feeling transcendent,” he said.

Thomas added that beautiful music is a thing that can be enjoyed and shared by everyone.

“Music is the great unifier,” O’Hara said.

The First Presidency provides a beautiful facility and makes sure it is laid out perfectly, Jarrett said.

Tickets to the event, which are free, are a hot item, according to Jarrett.

It takes many people to get the concerts up and going each year.

“It is mostly done by volunteers,” Wilberg said. “It is a true gift to the community. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Thomas’ wife attended the dress rehearsal and said later in their hotel that the experience was really something.

He said his wife added, “That theater is full of angels.”

While the full lineup of the concert or theme were not divulged prior to the concert, Wilberg did say it was completely different than last year. There will be some old favorite carols, but there will be some Christmas music that people may never have heard before.

If you have tickets or plan to try for stand-by, Jarrett suggested arriving early. There are downtown crowds, construction and weather issues motorists will be dealing with.

The concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Standby seating lines begin at the flagpole on Temple Square. Those seeking tickets will be seated in the Tabernacle until ushered to the Conference Center.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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