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The Mormon Tabernacle always likes to reserve some surprises for its annual Christmas extravaganza, but this year's edition may have topped them all, including one surprise too delicious to give away.

Every program includes an inspirational or heart-tugging Christmas-themed tale (ready-made for a picture book to be released in time for next Christmas). On Friday, newsman Tom Brokaw, known for celebrating America's "Greatest Generation," told the story of "Candy Bomber" Col. Gail "Hal" Halvorsen. The Salt Lake City man spearheaded an operation that dropped 23 tons of candy during the Berlin airlift of 1948-49. The 21,000 concertgoers in the Conference Center sat rapt as the tale unfolded amid eye-popping special effects, then leapt to their feet when Halvorsen, an energetic man of 92, took the stage. Brokaw's brief interview with Halvorsen was the highlight of an already enjoyable evening.

The marquee guest was tenor Alfie Boe, winner of a Tony Award for his performance in Baz Luhrmann's celebrated production of "La bohème" but better-known these days for his starring role in the concert version of "Les Misérables" that airs during every PBS pledge drive. Boe sang with fire and intensity, which made the next-door-neighbor charm of his between-songs banter all the more disarming. His earnest performance of his signature song, "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miz" — already rendered almost unbearably poignant by the tragic school shootings earlier in the day — earned every last teardrop it drew from the crowd.

Organist Richard Elliott added to his highlight reel with his clever use of registrations on a theater-organ-inspired arrangement of "Sleigh Ride." The red-and-gold Conference Center décor — the most attractive in many years — and Susan Memmott Allred's stylish costumes also had a hint of Old Hollywood about them. Choreographer Carol Iwasaki likewise was in fine form.

The choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, led by Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, gave their usual solid performance on assorted sacred and secular seasonal selections. —

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The annual Christmas extravaganza.

With • Tenor Alfie Boe, narrator Tom Brokaw, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells on Temple Square, conductors Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, and organists Richard Elliott, Andrew Unsworth and Clay Christiansen.

When • Reviewed Friday, Dec. 14; repeats Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m.

Where • Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.

Running time • 90 minutes; no intermission.

Tickets • Free, but "sold out"; standby line forms at the north gate of Temple Square.