Elmhurst College Concert Choir members will perform in A Christmas Carol: The Concert, a nationally televised PBS-WTTW holiday special that marks the first time the Charles Dickens classic has been adapted as a live orchestral concert with a choir and soloists, and performed for audiences in a concert setting. The television special will air several times in December, including on Christmas Eve night.
With a score by Emmy-nominated composer Bob Christianson and lyrics by Broadway's Alisa Hauser, A Christmas Carol: The Concert recalls Broadway classics like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, and includes musical styles that range from classical to Broadway to blues and gospel. The story, adapted by Hauser, is performed by luminaries from the Chicago and New York theater world, including Michael Aaron Lindner and E. Faye Butler.
The 40-person choir includes 32 Elmhurst College Concert Choir students, who rehearsed for months to learn more than 300 pages of music for the concert. The Concert Choir is an auditioned group of Elmhurst students that has toured throughout the United States and appeared in a variety of professional settings, including with the Chicago Sinfonietta at Orchestra Hall and in a performance of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
The group was invited to perform on A Christmas Carol: The Concert after Concert Choir Director Susan Moninger learned about the opportunity through a friend who needed a choir that could sing the broad range of styles used in Christianson and Hauser's adaptation.
Because of the high caliber of Elmhurst’s choral students and the College’s proximity to Chicago, “we have become the go-to choir for professional productions,” Moninger said. “A Christmas Carol is really giving us national exposure."
And yet the concert almost became a casualty of Scrooge-like circumstances. The taping of the concert originally was scheduled to take place toward the end of 2012, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. But Hurricane Sandy derailed those plans because many of the musicians and crew were on the East Coast and unable to get to Illinois. The project was delayed indefinitely.
"It was actually an important lesson for my students about what happens in the world of production and music," said Moninger, an industry veteran with extensive experience as a singer, composer and arranger. "Projects are always a work in progress, and sometimes things fall through."
Then earlier this year, Moninger got the news that the production had been revived, under a new producer. The Concert Choir got back to work, rehearsing and spending time with the show's composer, orchestral conductor and musical theater coach.
While choir members were excited about the opportunity, they didn't quite grasp the scale of the production until the two-day taping session began in May.
"No one realized how big of a deal it was going to be and that this adaptation would be unique," said Ella Bracero '15, a music business major who has been with the Concert Choir since her freshman year.
TJ Casey '14, who has been in the Concert Choir since his sophomore year, described the experience of working with Broadway musicians as "surreal" and "invaluable." The music composition and theory major said his favorite part was performing the closing number in front of a live audience.
"It's the 'God Bless Us Everyone' part, and it has this great gospel style,” Casey said. “Everyone was singing, the choir was clapping, the actors were clapping, and the audience was clapping. It was so joyous."
Moninger was moved to tears watching her students film the opening number.
"It was so exciting to have a live audience reaction," she said. "You could see the magic in the making and knew it was something special. We worked very hard preparing, and this was their moment."
A Christmas Carol: The Concert will air on WTTW-PBS at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 19; at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 21; and at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 24. The full schedule of air times is available on the WTTW website.
The DVD can be purchased for $20 at the music office in Irion Hall from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call (630) 617-3515.