From fireside skits to stake roadshows, drama has always been part of Latter-day Saint life, with the Church’s pageants at center stage. But the landscape of Church pageantry has changed drastically in the last few years. In 2018 the Church announced that it would phase out most Church pageants, encouraging members to instead focus on activities that foster gospel learning and worship in the home. Then in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic halted all pageants for two years.
But now costumes, props, and scripts are being dusted off, and gears are again turning to reawaken the Nauvoo pageant, a dazzling mammoth of a production that can be staged only with the effort of 850 volunteers. In fact, Nauvoo will again host two pageants, the Nauvoo and British Pageants, and now’s the time to apply to volunteer.
According to a Newsroom article, going forward, the Church will continue to produce pageants in three locations:
- Nauvoo, Illinois: The Nauvoo Pageant and the Truth Will Prevail British Pageant will be the only pageants to continue with support from Church headquarters.
- Mesa, Arizona: The Jesus the Christ pageant, depicting the life of the Savior, will continue under area leadership.
- Chorley, England: The Truth Will Prevail pageant will be put on every four years under area leadership.
Here’s a look back at the four pageants that were phased out after the 2018 announcement.
Palmyra, New York: Hill Cumorah Pageant
Hailed as “the definitive religious outdoor drama in America,” the Hill Cumorah pageant was produced annually from 1937 until 2019, drawing thousands of visitors every year. The show’s massive stage sprawled across the full height of the eponymous hill in Palmyra, New York, the location where Joseph Smith received the gold plates that were translated into the Book of Mormon. In 1988 renowned Latter-day Saint writer Orson Scott Card wrote a new script for the pageant, which featured crowd-pleasing water and fire effects.
The zenith of the show’s 82-year run may have come in 1997, when Donny Osmond himself, fresh from the Toronto production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, joined the Cumorah cast in the role of Samuel the Lamanite. Osmond spoke to Playbill and recalled that playing the besieged prophet came with some real peril: “I was standing high atop this wall and I told everyone below, I want to make this look real!’ They threw the spears on cue and right at me! I ran like the dickens. . . . I mean, these are not prop spears. They are the real thing. With sharp points!” With Osmond on stage, attendance jumped 20 percent that year.
In a last celebration before the final curtain fell on the pageant, this July the Church broadcast a recording of the 2019 production of the pageant along with a devotional with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The broadcast is available to watch here.
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Manti, Utah: The Mormon Miracle
A highlight of the Manti pageant was the scene where Angel Moroni was suddenly illuminated, revealed to be standing high atop the temple itself. The role of Moroni originally demanded an exceptionally daring actor: he was required to balance on a tiny wooden platform with just a crew member grasping his ankles to prevent a fall. Eventually the equipment was updated with a safer platform and a full body harness.
Produced on the Manti Utah Temple grounds, the show used a 900-person cast to tell the story of the Church from its beginnings in New York to the pioneer settlement of Utah, interspersed with scenes from the Book of Mormon. Each show played to 14,000 audience members in folding chairs, in addition to a lawn-blanket section.
Castle Dale, Utah: Castle Valley Pageant
The Castle Valley pageant began in 1978 as a ward roadshow using borrowed spotlights and sound equipment. Soon it grew into a stake-wide and then a region-wide production before finally gaining the status of an official Church-sponsored pageant. The show recounted the story of early pioneers in central Utah and featured draft horses and other animals that locals raised specifically for the pageant limelight.
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Clarkston, Utah: Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew
Clarkston is a tiny town of fewer than 700 people nestled in Cache Valley, Utah, but it drew over a million visitors to its pageant from 1982 to 2018. A custom-built stage was constructed practically on the grounds of the cemetery where Martin Harris is buried, and the show focuses on Harris’s life—as one of the Three Witnesses and the financer of the original Book of Mormon publication.
The pageant started out as a community event, but the Church stepped in to help run the show when its yearly attendance burgeoned. But even at its height, the Clarkston production remained the only Church pageant in which actors actually delivered their lines instead of lip-syncing to a recorded track.