The guest artist at this year’s “Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” TV special was surprised to learn that she could make a living as a singer.
Not because there was any question about her talent. Sutton Foster’s voice is amazing. She does, after all, have a pair of Tonys as best actress in a musical. And four more nominations.
No, growing up in Georgia, Foster didn’t realize that anybody could make a living doing what she loves. She had no opportunities to attend musicals of any kind, let alone Broadway shows.
“When we discovered that Broadway or musical theater or any of this existed, we would go to the local library and check out cassette tapes of musicals,” she said. “So when I was starting to do theater and dancing and all of that stuff, I didn’t know you could get paid to do it. I just thought it was something you did for fun, like it was a hobby.
“And then I realized that you could get paid, and I was, like, 'This is great!' Because I had no other thing that I was really interested in.”
Fortunately for us, this was the career she was interested in pursuing. She's a magnificent performer, as those who attended the 2017 Tabernacle Choir Christmas performances can attest.
The annual TV special always features the performance from 12 months earlier. Foster performed in December 2017. The 2019 special will feature Kristin Chenoweth, who sang with the choir in the Conference Center just this week.
“There’s something that happens when you stand on the stage [at the Conference Center] and you’re sharing this experience not only with the choir and orchestra, but with the 21,000 people that attend each night,” Foster said. “It becomes about everyone, no matter what you believe, coming together to celebrate this season.”
The PBS version of the program — which, by the way, still includes the word “Mormon” in the title — premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7. It runs 60 minutes and includes performances of “Joy to the World,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Silent Night” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) reads the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke, as well as a tragic true story of a night at sea in 1873 and its aftermath for the author of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.”
There’s a 90-minute version of the program, which debuts on BYUtv on Thursday at 6 and 9:09 p.m. It doesn’t include the M-word in the title, but it does include a “Jingle Bells” audience sing-along and Foster singing “Pure Imagination” (from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) and “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which she performs as a tribute to her late mother.
“For me, this time of year is all about family and celebrating the people that have passed,” she said, “so to be able to bring in all of the things that I love was a very powerful experience.”
Foster said that, growing up, she idolized Patti LuPone and “wanted to sing like Lea Salonga and Liz Callaway. And I would just obsessively listen to their voices.”
She insisted she “can’t even attempt to walk in Patti LuPone’s footsteps,” adding that she's always tried to be herself when she performs.
“I’m hoping to blaze a new trail. I’m trying,” she said. “I always tell young people to blaze your own paths. Don’t try to be me, be you.”