Latter-day Saint Life

An Inside Peek at the Biggest Church Pageant in the World


The last glow of daylight disappears as hundreds of costumed Latter-day Saints of all ages excitedly line the aisles of a temporary seating area at the base of New York’s Hill Cumorah. With an opening blast from the trumpets, everyone is cued into action. And the thrill of those several hundred people rushing onto a massive stage on the hill gives you more goosebumps than the chilly night air. Welcome to the Hill Cumorah Pageant.


Photo courtesy of Robert Knight

When missionaries from the Eastern States Mission organized an annual “Cumorah Conference” Pioneer Day celebration at the Joseph Smith Farm in the 1920s, they had no idea that their small production would one day become the largest, longest-running Church pageant in the world. Since that modest celebration, the Hill Cumorah Pageant has expanded to a 700+ person cast, a 14,000-foot stage, and thousands of audience members each night—an experience that participants remember as one of the best of their lives.

A Family Affair

Every July, the pageant draws huge crowds. But audience members aren’t the only ones who return annually for this incredible spiritual experience. A few families have become familiar faces in the cast over the years. One of these pageant veterans is Sister Marcia Slichta. Slichta has been a member of the pageant cast 10 times since the age of 16.

She recalls her most recent experience in 2014 as one of the sweetest, though, since she was blessed to bring her four children with her. “It was so amazing to go as a mom and watch my children have the same fun and spiritual experience that I had as a teenager,” she says.

For more fun tidbits about this incredible production, check out the July/August issue of LDS Living, available at Deseret Book stores or on

Likewise, the Cambell family treasures their annual trip to be in the pageant. Twenty-three-year-old Monty Campbell marks the third generation of his family to participate in the pageant. “My father has been doing it for about 20 years,” Campbell reports, “but as a family we’ve done it for about nine.”

But both the Campbells and the Slichtas agree that the pageant is more than just a tradition. It’s a family-bonding experience.

Pageant Proselyting


Photo courtesy of Jim Miranda

The enthusiasm for participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant isn’t limited to acting and making friends. There’s also a contagious excitement for doing missionary work. Steve Bean, a Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center missionary assigned to train pageant cast members, explains, “Six experienced sister missionaries are trained over several weeks on how to teach and motivate the cast members to greet pageant guests and make friends for the Church.” In this way, cast members are set apart as special missionaries for the duration of the pageant and assist the full-time missionaries in gathering referrals, answering questions, and sharing their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

“My favorite moments are hearing the miracles that happen to everyone,” costume staff member Jackie Walker says. “I love being a pageant missionary.”

For some cast members, being a pageant missionary is a great motivation to serve a full-time mission, while for others, it is the perfect transition back from a mission. Campbell, who had been home for only three days before leaving for the pageant, said, “It was the greatest blessing! I was able to come to a place where the Spirit was so strong.” He continues,

“It was also a blessing to continue to proselyte in the evenings before the show, and I was able to teach in my mission language because of the diversity of visitors.”

Returned missionary and cast member Aaron Thibaudeau agrees. “It was definitely something I needed to keep me in the right spiritual mindset.”

Hearts Changing

Having the opportunity to portray people from the Book of Mormon is a special chance that brings with it a strengthened testimony and greater connection to scripture stories. Campbell, who had the role of Moroni in the 2014 pageant, recalls how his testimony grew as he studied his role. “Each night on stage as I would say my lines, I could feel the power and truthfulness of what I was saying,” he remembers. “I had been forever changed and remain so by the experience.”

Similarly, Slichta remembers the joy that she felt when on the second day of the pageant, her oldest daughter, who was struggling with her testimony, told her, “I’m changing!” By the last day of the pageant, that same daughter said with tears in her eyes, “I know the Church is true.”


Photo courtesy of Chad Hawkins

One of the most sacred and demanding roles, that of the Savior, was portrayed by Chad Hawkins in 2014. Hawkins, one of the oldest actors ever to have the role, speaks about his responsibilities in reverent tones. He remembers studying 3 Nephi chapter 11 and focusing on what the Savior would have been feeling. But none of his studying prepared him for his experience on stage.

“I’ll never forget seeing the multitude of people slowly entering the stage and everyone’s eyes and stares focused on me. It was overwhelming because we’d done that before [in rehearsal], but this time it was different.”

As he reflects on the experience of looking into the eyes of each cast member, he remembers seeing many of them become emotional as they had a personal moment with their Savior. “That’s the part that I was not prepared for,” Hawkins says. “I was focused on the technical side, but it was overwhelming to feel everyone’s love for the Savior and feel their testimonies of what was happening—that it was real.” Even the children could feel the difference when they saw him dressed in white.

Hawkins also remembers spiritual moments with the costume staff and work crew. “When they put my wig on, and when they were putting on the beard, so often they would look at me, and they were crying.” He continues, “It was just so humbling for me as they were taking such great care with my wig and my robe, making sure my harness was right. It was their small act to the Savior.”

Miracles and Memories

Those who participate in the pageant always leave with stronger testimonies and happy memories. “I love the New World scene—when the Savior comes and blesses the children,” costume staff member Jolene Jeppson says. And though she loves what the costumes add to the production, she knows that “what makes them wonderful is the people wearing them.”


Photo courtesy of Jannalee Rosner

“I have so enjoyed helping dress people and having them ‘take on’ the person they are portraying,” costume staff member Shauna Jensen adds. “It is fun to see their smiles and confidence as they prepare to participate in the pageant.”

And though the pageant is a lot of fun, there are also sacred, miraculous moments.

For more fun tidbits about this incredible production, check out the July/August issue of LDS Living, available at Deseret Book stores or on

Bean describes one unexpected blessing at the pageant: bullhorn-armed protestors. “As difficult as it is to endure the boisterous bombardment of rude language,” he says, “ guests of other faiths have told us that the contrast between this onslaught and the welcoming and friendly spirit of the cast and staff of the pageant are starkly juxtaposed, and they can clearly see who the Christians really are.” These pageant-goers feel an extra special spirit, and their hearts are softened as they notice the contrast between the shouting at the gate and the pleasant families who greet them and help them find a seat.

Cast members come from places as far away as South Africa and New Zealand, and for some of them, they not only witness miracles while at the pageant, but their participation in the pageant is a miracle in itself. One of these cast members is Rebecca Seehootoorah from Kent, England.


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Seehootoorah


Photo courtesy of Jim Miranda

Seehootoorah was raised Muslim, though her mother joined the Church when Seehootoorah was a child. At 18, she knew the Church was true, but fear of hurting her still-devout Muslim father kept her from baptism. After two years of living the gospel without baptism, however, she had a spiritual experience that told her it was time to move forward—with or without her father’s approval. Though Seehootoorah’s father disowned her for a short time, her decision has ultimately strengthened her family and her own faith.

The first time she was accepted to be in the pageant, she was unable to attend. Later, however, the prompting came back loud and clear. “The thought occurred to me that Heavenly Father had said that I should be there [at the pageant]. And if that was true, shouldn’t I be there?” Soon after, everything seemed to fall into place, and Seehootoorah found herself in New York, where she had many opportunities to share her talents and testimony. Of her experience, she shares, “The Hill Cumorah Pageant, this pageant, is the Book of Mormon come to life. It will teach you and illuminate your life! I’m a better person from it.” She concludes, “It’s changed my life forever.”

If you are interested in participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, visit Applications are accepted in September and October, and families, couples, or singles may apply. If you would like to watch the pageant, admission is free and no reservations are necessary. Visit the Hill Cumorah website for dates and times.

For more fun tidbits about this incredible production, check out the July/August issue of LDS Living, available at Deseret Book stores or on


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