The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra and Temple Square entertained children and adults who are young at heart for their annual Christmas concert this year. Guest artists Broadway star Santino Fontana and the “Sesame Street” Muppets™ joined the choir for several concerts, including performances in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on December 11-13, 2014. The artists also appeared on the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast and mini-concert on Sunday, December 14.
Fontana is known by many for his recent roles playing Prince Hans in Disney’s hit movie “Frozen” and his Broadway performance as Prince Topher in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which earned him a Tony Award nomination.
“I also grew up watching Sesame Street so it’s surreal on many levels,” said Fontana during a Friday morning news conference that included Cookie Monster, Elmo and Abby Cadabby.
During the news conference, Cookie Monster commented on Thursday night’s rehearsal performance. “We got beautiful choir, amazing orchestra, 21,000 people and not one cookie!”
“It’s a dream come true to sing with the choir in front of a large crowd,” said Elmo. Abby Cadabby showed off her new choir dress.
Fontana returns to Salt Lake City following his popular Pioneer Day performances in July. “I didn’t think I’d be back so quick,” remarked Fontana, who explained he enjoys coming to Utah because it reminds him of southeastern Washington state where he grew up. “I like it here a lot.”
The choir’s music director, Mack Wilberg, said Fontana was “so great in the summertime that we knew we had to bring him back.” He’s also planning to return to Utah at the end of February for a national convention for choral directors and choirs.
In a first for the choir, the beloved “Sesame Street” Muppets™ — including Elmo, Count von Count, Abby Cadabby, Rosita, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird and Cookie Monster — are featured in this year’s performances.
“I can’t think of a person who would be better with our wonderful friends from Sesame Street than Santino,” said Wilberg. He said the production is a collaborative effort between a team of writers associated with the choir and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Sesame Street Workshop.
“The magic that happens on stage is the combination of many hours of great talented people,” said Ron Jarrett, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
“It’s our 45th anniversary, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate 45 years than to be working with an organization of such talented people,” said Carol-Lynn Parente, senior vice president of content and executive producer of “Sesame Street.” Parente travels with a staff of three people, the puppeteers and a couple of “puppet wranglers” who help the puppets on stage. “I don’t think this compares to anything we’ve ever done,” she added.
Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” which reaches 156 million children across more than 150 countries with lessons that help them grow smarter, stronger and kinder. “Sesame Street” launched its 45th anniversary season this year on PBS KIDS and has been nominated for 28 Primetime Emmys and has won eight. “Sesame Street” also holds the record for most Daytime Emmy Awards, with 159, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award in its 40th year.
Complimentary tickets to the concerts have all been distributed, but patrons who still want to attend are encouraged to wait in a standby line prior to each performance.
The Christmas concert is recorded every year and is broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network.
Santino Fontana also received the 2010 Drama Desk Award for his role in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and received accolades for originating the role of Tony in the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot.”
The Grammy Award-winning, all-volunteer Mormon Tabernacle Choir is made up of 360 men and women. They are accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, comprised of 150 volunteers. Their world-famous sound is under the direction of music director Mack Wilberg and associate music director Ryan Murphy. The choir has appeared at 13 world’s fairs and expositions, performed at six U.S. presidential inaugurals, and sung for numerous worldwide telecasts and special events. “Music and the Spoken Word,” the oldest continuing radio network broadcast, is a weekly tradition now in its 86th year.