Manti • The Mormon Miracle Pageant, a dramatic staple in central Utah for more than 52 years, came to an end Saturday.
In the run-up to the final show, those involved, many since the beginning, reminisced about the pageant’s importance to Manti and surrounding communities — it has been seen by an estimated 4 million people — and the thousands of individuals who have been part of the cast.
The show tells the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from its beginnings in New York to the settlement of Utah — all before the majestic Manti Temple. It also includes scenes from the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, including a depiction of Jesus Christ visiting the ancient Americas and the appearance of Angel Moroni at the top of the temple spire.
Here are remembrances and reflections from five people tied to the pageant. (Their comments have been edited for space and clarity.):
Doug Barton, technical crew • I was 18 at the first show. They asked me to do the lighting because I had done technical theater work at the high school and during my first year at Snow College. I wasn’t very good. But I was all they could find and could work for free. I took two years off to serve a mission in Oregon, but I’ve been here every year since.
We did the first show with about 20 lights. This year we are using close to 300 LED lights. Back then, we didn’t have a budget, and I made lights out of large gallon soup cans. I painted them black, put a little wood stand on them, put a socket in them and a floodlight. It was a $2 light fixture, and we used those for years because they actually worked pretty well and they were cheap.
For me, the first performance was the most memorable. It was raining on and off all day. I thought I had gone to all this work setting up the equipment and it was probably going to be rained out. I was discouraged about it, because the forecast was really not good.
That night the stake president [a regional Latter-day Saint leader] offered the prayer and commanded the elements to stop so we could have the show. And it stopped blowing and you could look up and see blue sky over the arena. All around Manti there were thundershowers and lightning and total chaos, but it didn’t rain on the show at all.
After it was over and as soon as we said “amen,” it drenched everyone. That was just the first miracle of many.
Christiana Peterson, 21, Lamanite dancer • I’ve been involved more than 10 years. I’ve been a pioneer. I’ve ben an angel. I’ve been part of Christ in America, I’ve been a Nephite. It’s helped me to be more confident as a person. I never used to go out and do things by myself and now I can. It has strengthened my testimony and I’m closer in my relationship to God.
It’s just become such a big part of me, something that I can depend on to help me feel the spirit and feel all God’s love and be around people who share my faith. I was a missionary before, for the church, and this was a way for me to be a missionary again. Now I’ll just have to find a different way to do the same thing.
Kenneth Olsen, General Mormon • I was the first person to play General Mormon when the pageant moved to Manti’s Temple Hill in 1968. I played it for four or five years and then my dad did it for 34 years, until 2004.
My whole family helped build sets. My wife sewed costumes and was in the pageant with our kids. When I heard this was the last year of the pageant, I thought, “You were the first one to portray General Mormon, maybe you could be the last.” It’s very special. I’m doing it more to honor my dad and his service.
The pageant has been a community thing. I’ve heard some people say we get our summer back. But there’s going to be a hole. We never dreamed it would turn into anything like this.
Melody Bishop, director • There are so many miracles. First of all, you have a cast this huge and a big percentage of them are teenagers or younger and it works. Then there was the night they said they would have to use just the spotlight because the lighting had gone out. Then the show started and I thought, "That looks like more than spotlights.” When it ended and crews checked the lighting, it should never have worked, but it did. There is miracle after miracle.
The heart just kind of drops, when I think about it being over. My youngest child is 14 and my oldest 40 and I’m grateful my children have had all these years to be in it. It has been a great thing for our family. It will be sad next June.
Elyssa David, wicked Nephite • I’m from Germany and I served as a missionary down in St. George. I only had the opportunity to come to Manti just once, for one day. I saw the temple and found out there was a pageant going on, but I never got to see it on my mission.
Then I came back another year with my brothers and we did the pioneer trek up in Martin’s Cove and that is when I saw the pageant for the first time and I thought, “I’ve got to do this.”
I came back with a friend and, by chance, I called around and got to the pageant president, and said “I want to volunteer. What can I do?” I stayed with them for a week and did backstage technical stuff. That was really a good week.
Then I heard, after I returned to Germany and got married, that the pageant was going to stop. I’m studying social work with a specialization in theater, so I asked my professor, “Can I do my bachelor’s thesis on a play in Utah made up of 1,100 volunteers who are not theater people?.” She said, “OK, if you can travel there and know what to do.”
I think it’s kind of sad that it is ending. I understand the reason because they are very valid reasons. But I bet that the community will find something else to do with this much power. This community is so amazing. They get up at 6 in the morning and put up 15,000 chairs. They get a doughnut for it and go home. No complaining.