‘Waltons’ Star Richard Thomas Celebrates The Holiday Season With The Tabernacle Choir

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By Barb Oates

“Christmas is a big deal in our house. I had a Manhattan-apartment Christmas growing up, so it was simple, but it was really important. It’s my favorite time of year. And I’m especially interested and in love with Christmas music,” Richard Thomas tells us.

 

No surprise, then, that when he got the call asking him to take part in the 17th annual Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir (60-minute version airs Dec. 14 on PBS, 90-minute version airs on Dec. 17 on BYUtv), an event he watched and adored for years, his response was: “How high can I jump? I’m in. I’m in no matter what.”

Thomas takes the stage with Broadway great Kelli O’Hara, where both stage veterans admit that nothing could have prepared them for hearing and experiencing the voices of the award-winning Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, along with the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells at Temple Square behind them.

“Nothing – nothing – prepared me for this event. And not just the performance, or the hall, or the people, but the unbelievable backstage, the coordination, the dedication, the volunteerism of the whole thing, and the spectacular way people worked together and supported each other,” Thomas gushed. “That was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Everybody should have this experience of seeing this. No matter what your faith background is, it’s a profound experience if you just let yourself be open to it.”

Recorded last year, this year’s musical spectacle is set against a country farmhouse and chapel backdrop and is paired with songs and stories that celebrate holiday traditions that have contributed to our country’s rich cultural fabric.

Thomas’ deeply touching and personal reading of Pearl S. Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning will bring you to tears.

“I was a New York theater kid who spent all my summers on my grandparents’ farm in Eastern Kentucky in the hills — really gorgeous, beautiful, rural childhood summers. So that was an enormous part of my life,” Thomas added. “It wasn’t just that I had done The Waltons, I kind of lived The Waltons out there with my grandparents and my cousins and aunts and uncles in the country growing up. … The Pearl Buck story was a perfect connection to The Waltons and the country, very American, and I think that really worked.”

And that it did. As we wrapped our interview, I asked how often he hears from his fans the iconic line, “Good night, John-Boy.” Thomas laughed and said with admiration, “If I had a nickel for every time somebody yelled that, even when I’m onstage, when people should know better, it’s a constant refrain, and I love it. It makes me really happy.”

He, along with the Tabernacle and O’Hara, brings happiness to all this season in this most beautiful performance.

“In this year of living upside down, where everything has been changed and everything that we’re doing, all of our usual going out to dinner, taking a walk in the park, seeing your family, when it’s all been modified and changed and altered and turned upside down and twisted around by our circumstances, it’s very nice that at a particular time in the evening, people will be able to turn on the television and have the experience of something that has been the same traditionally for 17 years, and that there will be some comfort and sense of stability in that.”