Lea Salonga, David Suchet moved by Tabernacle Choir special's WWII story

Lea Salonga sings and David Suchet narrates the "Season of Light: Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir" special, premiering Tuesday. Photo courtesy of PBS
1 of 3 | Lea Salonga sings and David Suchet narrates the "Season of Light: Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir" special, premiering Tuesday. Photo courtesy of PBS

NEW YORK, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Broadway legend Lea Salonga and Poirot icon David Suchet say they were moved to tears by the powerful and inspiring story at the heart of this year's Season of Light: Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir program.

The 90-minute special premieres on PBS Tuesday and BYUtv, which produced it, and its streaming platforms on Sunday. It was taped over three nights in front of live audiences last winter at the 21,000-seat LDS Conference Center at Temple Square in Utah.


The program includes a 500-member volunteer ensemble composed of The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells at Temple Square and Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble.

Salonga sings a mix of Christmas carols and church hymns, as well as a Filipino song in Tagalog called "Payapang Daigdig," while Suchet narrates the story of Nicholas Winton, an English stockbroker and real-life hero, who saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.


"As someone coming from the Philippines, Christmas is a huge, huge deal where the Christmas season actually starts in September," Salonga told reporters in a recent virtual press conference, adding that the specific theme of the concert greatly appealed to her.

"Here is one person who is able to change the lives of so many people. It kind of reminds you of the power that even one person can possess," she said.

"It was so tearjerking, listening to David narrate the story and talk about Nicholas Winton. Every night was just like, 'OK, our jaws are just constantly on the floor.'"

Suchet, who is British, felt proud and honored to tell Winton's story.

"He's so well-known here, in this country, and this was a chance to spread his word many, many years after his death," Suchet said of Winton, who died in 2015 at age 106.


"I think it's an important evening. Yes, it's hugely entertaining and will be enjoyed by millions, but the message is so important -- the message of hope. I think it's coming out at the most perfect time."

Suchet said he wasn't prepared for the awe-inspiring collaboration ahead of him when he arrived in Utah.

"I remember most vividly, apart from the warmth of being welcomed, the first time i ever set foot in the auditorium and meeting the Tabernacle. I was completely dumbstruck," he said.

"I've never been in such a size auditorium and I've never been part of such an extraordinary choir and listening to Lea singing was a true gift," he added. "I'm a fairly emotional man, anyway, but I just couldn't hold myself together at that particular moment when I first heard them sing."

The choir's music director, Mack Wilberg, called the show a "magical experience."

"The great thing is we are now able to share it with the rest of the world," Wilberg said.

Salonga said she suggested "Payapang Daigdig" -- written in the wake of World War II -- for the program because it complemented Winton's acts of heroism.

"It is a hope that even in the aftermath of violence and destruction, there is a peace that comes afterward," she added.


"I don't think any of us could have anticipated how important a message like that would be, given when this is going to be released."

Wilberg said the song was a way to musically blend Salonga's heritage, Winton's story and the Christian holiday.

"It was somewhat akin to the Christmas carol, 'Silent Night,' so when I arranged the piece, I arranged 'Silent Night' as part of the Filipino carol and it was a very touching moment in our concert," he said. "And, of course, Lea sang it so beautifully."

In addition to her Tony-winning performance in Broadway's Miss Saigon, Salonga also is known for providing the singing voices for the animated Disney princesses Mulan and Jasmine from Aladdin. Earlier this year, she performed in the West End stage production of Stephen Sondheim's musical, Old Friends.

Suchet played Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot from 1989 to 2003 in PBS' adaptation of Agatha Christie's mysteries.

He is playing Captain Hook in a Peter Pan stage pantomime in London this holiday season and expects to tour his one-person show, David Suchet: Poirot and More, a Retrospective, throughout the United Kingdom in the new year.


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