Latter-day Saint Life

What Newspapers Are Saying About the Historic, "Bittersweet" End of the Hill Cumorah Pageant


In 2020, the Hill Cumorah Pageant will celebrate its 83rd and final year. This iconic religious event has attracted the attention of media outlets across the nation, from the New York Times to USA Today.

In 2011, the New York Times called the Hill Cumorah Pageant "a Cecil B. DeMille-style presentation" of the Book of Mormon, noting "its cast of 700, 1,300 costumes, 10-level stage and thrill-a-minute special effects of earthquakes, floods, fireballs, airborne deities and burnings at the stake."

In 2015, USA Today noted the spiritual aspects behind the Hill Cumorah's production, as well as the service the cast members provide in the community as part of the pageant experience: "Pulling off the production in a few days is helped by divine intervention and a committed cast," said Hill Cumorah Pageant President Dwight Schwendiman. Peter Garrow, a veteran of the pageant, told USA Today of his experience learning the intense choreography, "You have to be confident in yourself that you're going to be able to just do it and that God's going to be able to help you."

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And who can forget the powerful testimony published in The Guardian in 2011, a testimony captured by a fellow Christian writer experiencing the pageant for the first time:

"As Christians visiting a Mormon pageant we expected hostility, but were met with nothing but kindness and sincerity. . . . "Ironically, while we worried about hostility from the Mormons, the only aggression we experienced was from those who, like us, identified as 'Christian.' The Mormons were kind and welcomed us not seven times but 70 times, so that even if we disagreed with their theology, we could not help but be moved by their authenticity. "As we departed, two performers approached, a convert and a disabled teenager who spoke in slow but determined English, "I'd like to bear my testimony to you. I know Jesus Christ saved us and that he sent his angel Moroni to reveal the truth to Joseph Smith. I knelt down and asked God, and I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know it in my heart." "Mainstream Christianity could learn a lot from Mormons about how to communicate faith, I thought. Because, though I didn't buy the religion they sold, it's hard to argue with a testimony like that."

This year, the Hill Cumorah Pageant has continued to draw the attention of news outlets as well as audiences in historic numbers.

Rochester City Newspapernoted, "Pageant attendance has already been record-breaking this year, even with torrential rain on opening night, but the 2020 pageant is anticipated to be the biggest yet." And, based on their review of the production, it's little wonder why. "The production quality is impressive; similar to an outdoor show at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. And for fans of Charlton Heston movies, the spectacle feels like The Ten Commandments meets Broadway."

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In fact, the Finger Lakes Times remarked about the grandeur of the pageant, "The annual Hill Cumorah Pageant is billed as one of the largest theater productions in the world."

It is this large production, in part, that has inspired Church leaders to announce the close of the pageant next year. Buffalo News reported:

"The sheer scope of the event undertaking—in addition to the cast of hundreds, 150 of them work security, parking and other roles—is part of the reason the production will end in 2020. Other considerations include the cost, time commitment, security concerns and wear and tear on the church's sacred sites in the Wayne County town of Palmyra, a church spokesperson said. Most families plan their vacation around the event, and organizers prepare for it year-round. The church felt that time could be better spent on other things, such as studying together at home. . . . "'If it went on forever, we’d do it forever,' [Latter-day Saint Mindy York] said. 'But since it's ending, we’ll find new traditions to begin as a family.'"

For these last two years of the historic Hill Cumorah Pageant, Latter-day Saints plan to continue to help in the community and create powerful spiritual experiences.

"When they're not rehearsing or performing, the cast spends part of their 17-day volunteer commitment in the community, completing more than 1,800 hours of service projects," Rochester City Newspaperreported.

Latter-day Saint Jason Lahti and his family are participating in the pageant this year; he told the Buffalo News that he loves the way the pageant brings to scriptures to life and he wants to bring them and the inspiring feelings they bring alive for others.

“I am excited to work with so many new cast members who are going to bring such spirit,” artistic director Shawnda Moss told the Daily Messenger. “I think there’s going to be heart and passion, and the audience will be touched by that.”

Image from the 2015 July/August issue of LDS Living.
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