In return to Utah, ‘Waltons’ star shares his favorite part of the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert
‘I don’t think it’s like any other concert event in the country — maybe anywhere,’ Richard Thomas said
The tour brings him to Salt Lake City this week, and ahead of the production — which runs Sept. 6-11 at the Eccles Theater — Thomas reflected on his last visit to Utah, when he served as narrator for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s annual Christmas concert.
It’s been almost three years since Thomas — well known for his Emmy-winning role as John-Boy in “The Waltons” — recited Pearl S. Buck’s “Christmas Day in the Morning” to a packed crowd in the Conference Center. But he hasn’t forgotten the thrill of it all.
“Reading that text with that choir behind me, it doesn't get better than that,” Thomas recently told the Deseret News. “It was a great experience, as it is for everybody who does it. It’s a very cool gig, I loved doing it.”
But for Thomas, the best part of the Tabernacle Choir’s 2019 Christmas concert was all of the behind-the-scenes effort that went into producing the “colossal spectacle.”
“My favorite part of it was to watch all that volunteerism in action, everybody contributing their best,” he said. “The whole idea that the thing was done on a volunteer basis for the community was the most exciting part of that for me.
“It’s a great event and it’s unique,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s like any other concert event in the country — maybe anywhere.”
That 2019 Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert, featuring Thomas and Broadway star and actress Kelli O’Hara, marked the last Christmas concert before the pandemic.
In 2021, the organization put together a TV special celebrating “20 Years of Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir,” featuring highlights from two decades worth of concerts, the Deseret News reported. That program also touched on the concert’s volunteer efforts that impressed Thomas so much.
“The difficult part was selecting what should be included, given the wealth of material we had to work with,” Mack Wilberg, the choir’s music director, said in a statement at the time. “We also wanted to provide the interesting story of how the Christmas concert has been put together, featuring not only the army of volunteer performers from the choir organization, but also the many world-class guest artists we have had the privilege of working with over the past 20 years.”
In December 2021, guest artists Megan Hilty and Neal McDonough — backed by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells at Temple Square — put on a Celtic-themed production for an audience of about 4,000 at the Conference Center. That performance will air on PBS and BYUtv later this year, the Deseret News reported.