For months, show-business has been adjusting to a less-is-more approach.
At times, the result can be splendid. Kelli O’Hara showed that with gorgeous solos during PBS specials for Memorial Day and the 4th of July.
But now there’s a flip side – a reminder that more is more. Viewers will see her Christmas concert (shown here), taped a year ago with the Tabernacle Choir.
“It’s so moving to hear that sound,” she said. “It’s like an ocean wave washing over you.”
As a Broadway star (with seven Tony nominations and one win), she’s used to size. For “South Pacific,” she had a 40-piece orchestra and a couple thousand people in the audience.
But then there are the Tabernacle concerts – 100-piece orchestra, 360-voice choir, 20,000 people in the audience. “And it isn’t just the size,” O’Hara said. “It sounds as if it’s all one voice.”
That may be what viewers need now. “People’s lives are really out-of-sync now,” Richard Thomas said. “Everything is up in the air.” The concert offers a chance to revisit massive music.
Thomas does its readings and joins the closing group-sing; he’s done musicals, but not lately. “I don’t even sing in the shower now. When you have Kelli O’Hara, the best thing you can do is listen.”
The two had opposite upbringings – O’Hara in Elk River, Okla., where her parents ranched, Thomas in Manhattan, where his parents danced. “I had a free-range, backstage childhood,” he said.
But both had grandparents who played records by what was then called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
For O’Hara, that was a window to a distant world. Her mother taught elementary school and her dad worked the ranch (later going to law school and going into practice with her brother). Her grandparents would pull out their albums – “everything from Frank Sinatra to Nat King Cole to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
She knew nothing about the big-city world – “I never saw Broadway show until I was 21” – but felt drawn to New York. “I felt like I needed to go there.”
Thomas started there. A typical Christmastime involved watching his parents in George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” ballet. “I was the backstage baby – literally. That made an indelible impression on me.”
But summers were spent at his grandparents’ farm in Kentucky. That’s where he saw the moods he would re-create in “The Waltons”; it’s also where his grandparents (like O’Hara’s) brought out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir records.
For the concert, producers asked him to read parts of a Robert Frost poem, a Pearl Buck story and the nativity story in Luke. They asked O’Hara if she had specific songs in mind. “Kristen Chenoweth had been there the year before and she beat me to it. She did ‘O Holy Night’; she did ‘What Child Is This?’ They didn’ t want to repeat themselves.”
(Maybe she should have expected that. Chenoweth, 52, and O’Hara have much in common, including the same sorority and music teacher at Oklahoma City University.)
A year after the concert, both performers are back in the New York area. O’Hara, 44, and her husband have two school-age children. During the Broadway shutdown, she’s done five in-person concerts and an acting role for an upcoming series.
Thomas, 69, and his wife are in Manhattan. Holidays aren’t like the old days, when he had five children (including triplet daughters) and two step-children nearby.
Today, two of the offspring are in New York; the triplets are in Oregon. Life has shrunk a bit … but the concert lets people recall a time when more really was more.
– Tabernacle Choir with Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas, 9-10 p.m. Dec. 14, PBS; reruns 9 p.m. Dec. 24 (check local listings).
– A 90-minute version of the concert is at 8 p.m. ET Dec. 17 on BYUTV, via cable or www.byutv.org. It’s also 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23, 11 a.m. Dec.25.
– Previous concerts also air on BYUTV. It’s Sutton Foster and Hugh Bonneville at 8 p.m. ET Dec. 3 and 11 p.m. Dec. 20, Kristen Chenoweth at 8 p.m. Dec. 10.