Continuing a holiday tradition established with last year's top-rated PBS show, Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a holiday concert featuring Audra McDonald and Peter Graves, comes to PBS December 21 at 9 p.m. EST *. The world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square are joined by Tony Award winner Audra McDonald and veteran movie and television star Peter Graves in the hour-long special that includes African-American spirituals and a medley of contemporary favorites. The high-definition, surround-sound production was recorded during concerts performed December 16, 17, and 18, 2004, in the state-of-the art Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
The concert opens with a stunning processional of candle-bearing dancers, lending an air of grandeur to the Choir's performance of the French "Carol to the King." Featured selections performed by the Choir, the Orchestra and Ms. McDonald include "We Need a Little Christmas," "Pine Cones and Holly Berries," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Waltz," "Silver Bells" and "Deck the Halls." Also showcased on the program is a Michael Davis-arranged medley of African-American spirituals, "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "Children, Go Where I Send Thee," "I Wonder as I Wander," and "Go Tell it on the Mountain."
A Ballet West principal ballerina dances the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Peter Graves gives a moving rendition of the Christmas story from Luke. Other selections performed by the Choir include "Ding, Dong, Merrily on High," "Fum, Fum, Fum!," "Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing," "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," the Nigerian carol, "Betelehemu," and "Angels, from the Realms of Glory."
By the time she was 28, Audra McDonald had made Broadway history by winning Tony Awards for Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime. Ms. McDonald won her fourth Tony for Best Supporting Actress for a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. This remarkable achievement puts her in company with such four-time winners as Angela Lansbury and Gwen Vernon. In 2000, she earned a Best Actress Tony nomination for Marie Christine, a musical retelling of the Medea myth, created for her by Michael John LaChiusa. Since then, she has distinguished herself as a concert performer, recording artist, and dramatic actress, adding an Emmy nomination to her expanding list of critical and popular acclaim. Other career highlights have included performances at the Proms Festival in London, the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City, and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
Born into a musical family, Audra McDonald grew up in Fresno, California. She received her classical vocal training at the Juilliard School, graduating in 1993.
Peter Graves has had an enormously successful acting career in film, spanning from the classic Stalag 17 to the comic Airplane, and an equally rewarding television career, encompassing more than a half-dozen series, several miniseries, and numerous movies for television. He starred in the original television series of Mission Impossible for six of the seven years it aired on CBS-TV (1966-1973). This role firmly established him as a star of international importance, a status that continues undiminished. Since 1987, Mr. Graves has hosted A&E Television's flagship series Biography, which has earned some of the network's highest ratings. Mr. Graves is also an accomplished musician, a talent he developed early in his youth.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, conducted by Craig Jessop, is a 360-voice group that traces its roots to the arrival of pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The Choir is best known for its weekly national Sunday broadcast,Music and the Spoken Word, which originates from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The program, the longest continuous network broadcast in the world, has been a weekly American tradition since 1929 and is carried on over 2000 of radio, television and cable outlets worldwide. The Choir is also known for its recordings, which have earned a Grammy Award, as well as two platinum and five gold albums. After having recorded for CBS, Sony, Telarc, Decca and others, it formed its own recording label--Mormon Tabernacle Choir®--in 2003. The Choir has recorded with some of the world's great orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. It now performs regularly with the Orchestra at Temple Square, a 110-member symphony - all volunteer, like the Choir - formed in 1999. Craig Jessop and Mack Wilberg conduct the Choir and Orchestra, with many of the arrangements for the concert done by Wilberg, one of America's premiere choral arrangers.
Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a production of KUED-Salt Lake City, whose projects have included the PBS primetime music specialsThe Gift of Music and A Christmas Gloria starring Roma Downey from Touched By An Angel , and last year's Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir featuring Frederica von Stade and Bryn Terfel, which was the most watched Christmas show in the PBS schedule during 2004. John Howe is executive producer.