The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will honor the legacy of the pioneers this year with a splash of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” to remind the world that “impossible things are happening every day.”
On July 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., Laura Osnes, best known as the star of “Cinderella” in its recent Broadway production, will team up with the choir and orchestra for their annual Pioneer Day concert, this year titled “Music for a Summer Evening.”
The concert, held in the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pays tribute to the Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains, suffered through difficulties and sometimes sacrificed their lives while making the trek to Utah in 1847.
“Certainly, one of the important parts of the concert is saluting our pioneer ancestors, and the first part of the program will be, indeed, paying tribute to them,” said Mack Wilberg, music director for the choir. “And (this concert) is always meant to be a program that, besides saluting our ancestors, is what you might call lighter-fare music. This year, because of our guest artist and her background on Broadway, the program will also have a Broadway theme.”
Osnes has been nominated for a Tony Award and has won several awards, including Favorite Lead Actress in a Musical and Favorite Onstage Pair (with “Cinderella” co-star Santino Fontana) at the Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards. The Pioneer Day concert will feature a variety of music by artists such as George M. Cohan, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and will include songs and Broadway marches Osnes has previously performed.
“I’m so excited, and I think it’s going to be great,” Osnes said. “Everyone I’ve talked to — Santino Fontana, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rebecca Luker, who have also performed with the choir in the past — all say that it is a very, very special experience.”
Fontana, a Broadway actor who played opposite Osnes in “Cinderella” as Prince Topher, performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at last year’s Pioneer Day and Christmas concerts.
“Last year, Prince Charming in the form of Santino Fontana made his debut on the Conference Center stage, so it only seems fitting to welcome Cinderella,” choir president Ron Jarrett said in a statement on the choir’s website. “Ms. Osnes is a talented vocalist and performer who will charm our audiences. We’re so glad the glass slipper fit with her busy schedule.”
Osnes isn’t the only one with a busy schedule. The choir recently returned from its 2015 Atlantic Coast Tour and hasn’t had time for a long break before the upcoming concerts.
“It is a lot of work, and everyone works very hard,” Wilberg said. “We were just on tour and now we’re doing yet another major concert with completely different music. In this particular case, we will have (had) about 10 days to prepare.”
Wilberg said the reactions and responses from the guest artists asked to perform with the choir have always been very positive and exciting. Osnes is no exception.
“I have never performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I am so excited,” Osnes said. “It’s an over-300-piece choir. I’ve never sung with that. There’s a 100-piece orchestra. I’ve never sung with that either. I’ve sung with big orchestras but never 100 pieces. I think it’s going to be a really thrilling and special experience because I’m singing songs I love to sing. This will be completely unique, and I don’t think I have ever done anything quite like it before.”
Being on Broadway is “a dream come true” for Osnes, but the road she took to achieve her dream was unique. She competed alongside “thousands of people” on the reality TV show “Grease: You're the One That I Want!” As a result of winning the competition, she was cast in the role of Sandy in “Grease” on Broadway.
“I felt this call in my heart to audition for it. It was like, ‘Go, you need to do this.’ I kept making it to the next level, and America kept voting,” Osnes said. “I’m glad I did it because it opened a lot of doors for me and made my dream come true, but I don’t think I would do it again. It was crazy to have to sing for your survival in front of America.”
Osnes said she has wanted to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for “a while now,” and although she had a challenging start to her career, she is very happy about where it has taken her.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl, and I feel so fortunate that I get to do what I love every day,” she said. “Every day I kind of pinch myself and think, ‘I live in New York and I get to be on Broadway!’ It’s very special.”
If you go ...
What: “Music for a Summer Evening” Pioneer Day concert
When: July 17 and 18, 8 p.m.
Where: LDS Conference Center, 60 N. Temple
How much: Free, tickets required
Note: The event is sold out, but a standby line for last-minute seating will form at the north gate on Temple Square at 6 p.m. each evening. Admission to the concert is limited to those ages 8 and older.