Tony Award-winning Angela Lansbury had no idea what to expect when asked to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square for its Christmas concert.
"The only thing I really knew about Salt Lake City was what I had read and discussions with some of the people I worked with who live here," Lansbury, 76, said during a press conference today. "I had never seen anything like this wonderful valley surrounded by these majestic mountains. And it's just beautiful."
Lansbury and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — directed by Craig Jessop and Mack Wilberg — and the Orchestra at Temple Square, directed by Barlow Bradford, will perform free concerts in the Conference Center tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. Standby admittance will begin at 7:15 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 9:15 a.m. Sunday.
The actress, who won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of mystery novelist and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the now syndicated "Murder, She Wrote" TV series, is taking over as narrator in this year's concert, a duty that "Touched by an Angel" star Roma Downey filled last year with singer Gladys Knight.
"I was originally asked two years ago but was unable to come," she said at the news conference in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' administration building. "A year ago, I was asked again but had a conflict with a West Coast tour. But after the events of Sept. 11, the tour was canceled, so I decided I was coming to Salt Lake City."
Jessop said he has always wanted Lansbury to come to Salt Lake City to perform with the choir.
"The Conference Center is a beautiful venue that deserves to house performances by world-class and morally uplifting artists such as Angela Lansbury," Jessop said. "Once we began planning the concerts, she was first on my list. And I wasn't about to give up."
Lansbury was amazed at the dedication that "surrounds" the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the crew who volunteer at the Conference Center.
"These people are working together for the sake of their art," she said. "Everyone's a volunteer. I'm a volunteer, and it is refreshing to be working with people who aren't concerned with the box office intake. We're not up against cost. We're not up against the venue. And may I say that it is a fantastic venue."
Lansbury said spending the last couple of evenings rehearsing with the choir and orchestra has helped her relax.
"I was nervous about performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," said Lansbury, who has listened to the choir throughout her life. "After I had accepted, Craig came to my home in Los Angeles and spoke with me about the performance. I asked for an additional rehearsal, and he graciously gave me one."
In addition to her exposure and 12 Emmy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Drama Series during her eight-year gig in "Murder, She Wrote," Lansbury, throughout her 57-year career, has appeared in more than 45 films, including her Academy Award nominated roles in "Gaslight" (1944), "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962). She also loaned her voice to the wise tea kettle Mrs. Potts in Walt Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and starred with Elvis in "Blue Hawaii" (1961).
Lansbury also won Tony Awards for her roles in the musicals "Dear World" (1969), "Gypsy" (1975), "Sweeney Todd" (1979) and "Mame" (1966), which also earned her the Sarah Siddons Award.
"I feel if you have a talent, you should use it," she said of her long illustrious career. "That's what keeps me going. It's a gift to me, and I need to share it."