Manti Celebrates 50th Season of Mormon Miracle Pageant

Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News contributor

  • 29 June 2016

In a scene from the 2016 Mormon Miracle Pageant, an actor portrays Jesus Christ visiting the ancient Americas.  Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageant.
  • The pageant has grown immensely over the years.
  • Being a part of the pageant has benefited those involved in its production in many ways.

“I love the feeling [the pageant] presents and to share the gospel with those who come and see the pageant. It helps us grow more spiritually and helps us look more deeply into the Book of Mormon and try to find answers.” —Josh Douglas, pageant actor

MANTI, UTAH

The numbers involved in bringing the Mormon Miracle Pageant to life are staggering: 1,100 cast members, with the help of 300 prop and technical crew members, portray a story that encompasses 2,000 years of history; 10 days to practice before 10 days of performances; 900 security personnel volunteers assist with traffic control, ushering, meals, emergency medical services, and maintenance; 400 volunteers set up 14,000 metal folding chairs for an estimated 100,000 people who will watch the pageant this year.

But perhaps the biggest number this year is 50. This year, the Mormon Miracle Pageant, held on the hillside of the Manti Utah Temple grounds, celebrated its half-century mark.

The pageant has gone through many changes while retaining the heart of what made it beloved by Sanpete County residents since its first performance 50 years ago, in 1967. Beginning on the Sanpete County fairgrounds with a small budget, improvised lighting, live music, and a few hundred performers, the production has developed into one with professional lighting and sound systems provided by the Church and a recorded soundtrack.

Pageant director John Keeler said that a large number of new performers unfamiliar with the pageant has made preparing for this year’s show difficult, but “the thing that makes it possible is that there’s still a large percentage of the cast that has been in it for years. … It’s the only way it could happen.” The community has made a “total commitment” to the pageant, he said. “After 50 years, it’s ingrained in what we do in the summers.”

Members living in Manti, Ephraim, and the surrounding communities have pitched in. From designing and sewing 3,000 costumes, which are replaced every few years as they age, to creating weapons for the Lamanites and Nephites out of garbage can lids, painted balsa wood, and aluminum, to rigging propane tanks to let off controlled fireballs, volunteers have used their creativity and technical skills to put on the best show possible.

A scene in the 2016 Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, depicts Joseph Smith seeing the First Vision. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple during the Mormon Miracle Pageant on June 15, actors portray the Henshaw family accepting the gospel. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple during the Mormon Miracle Pageant on June 15, an actor portrays Samuel the Lamanite prophesying to the wicked Nephites. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding during the Mormon Miracle Pageant, actors portray Robert and Mary Henshaw being reunited after death. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

A visual history of the pageant can be found in the bishops’ storehouse on 100 North Main Street, where props and costumes, along with some of the original designs by Sue Allred, who worked for the Utah Opera, are displayed for visitors.

Being a part of the pageant has benefited those involved in its production in many ways.

“I learned more about the Book of Mormon than I ever had before,” Ivo Peterson said of his time as pageant director. He served in that position from 1998 to 2005 and was instrumental in introducing the “Christ in the Americas” scene into the pageant. He said he also learned patience while learning how to direct a cast of 700 unprofessional volunteers. “I learned a great love for the people of Sanpete as well,” he said.

David E. Allred said that portraying the Savior in the “Christ in the Americas” scene has given him an opportunity to think about the Son of God in a different way. “Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be doing? Trying to be like Jesus? I don’t feel like this sets me apart from what all of us are trying to do,” he said.

Many in leadership positions of the pageant today were first cast members in the beginning years of the pageant. Douglas Dyreng, first counselor in the Mormon Miracle Pageant presidency, has been a part of the pageant since the first show on the Sanpete fairgrounds. “I’ve been in a lot of the cast roles. I’ve played Robert (a main character in scenes depicting Mormon pioneers), I’ve played angel Moroni, I’ve played [Captain] Moroni, I was in the Nauvoo family with my wife, I’ve moved scenery—I’ve done it all,” he said. This allowed him to “get a feel for what’s involved with the actors and the level of commitment it takes,” when he presided over the pageant.

Jane Braithwaite, who has been involved with the Mormon Miracle Pageant since the first performance, remembers her time assisting directors Morgan and Helen Dyreng when she was 30. “My big job was to get people involved in it for the crowd scenes. … I had to proselyte them. And now they’ve had 1,100 sign up!”

Families have made volunteering for the pageant a tradition. The Worthington family, who portray the Nauvoo family in one scene, have been involved for three years. “My boys go around playing Lamanites and Nephites at home and quote the pageant,” Janalee Worthington said. When watching the pageant, her children ask her, “‘What part of the Book of Mormon is this in?’ You can’t tell your kids, ‘No, you can’t come be a part of this awesome Church activity.’”

“I grew up in Gunnison. I never wanted to be in the pageant until we were in it with our kids,” said Jed Worthington. Seeing how involved his children get with the pageant has become a testimony of “the power that comes from it,” he said.

More than half of the performers are youth from the Manti Utah and Ephraim Utah Stakes. Josh Douglas, who is one of the actors portraying Samuel the Lamanite, has been performing in the pageant since 2012. “I love the feeling [the pageant] presents and to share the gospel with those who come and see the pageant,” he said. “It helps us grow more spiritually and helps us look more deeply into the Book of Mormon and try to find answers.”

The Mormon Miracle Pageant performances this year were June 16–25, beginning at 9:30 p.m. each night. To commemorate the 50th season, devotionals were held each performance night at 4:30 p.m., followed by a concert at 7:30 p.m. More information can be found at mantipageant.org.

During the Mormon Miracle Pageant, an actor portraying Mormon walks with the gold plates. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The Manti Utah Temple is illuminated at times during the Mormon Miracle Pageant. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

A display in the bishops’ storehouse on 100 North Main Street in Manti, Utah, showcases costumes from all 50 years of the Mormon Miracle Pageant. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Sketches of costumes used in the Mormon Miracle Pageant from 1966 to 2016 are displayed in the bishops’ storehouse on 100 North Main Street in Manti, Utah. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Tracie Bradley, left, sews costumes while Dean Halling, right, takes measurements in Manti, Utah, June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Jack Keisel, who portrays a revival preacher, gets a final touch of makeup before the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Samantha Olson, who plays Mary Henshaw in the Mormon Miracle Pageant, smiles as she plays Uno with other actors before the show in Manti, Utah, on June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Between 12,000 to 15,000 people attended each night of the Mormon Miracle Pageant's 2016 presentation in Manti, Utah. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Jack Keisel portrays a revival preacher in the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, on June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

A scene in the 2016 presentation of the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, portrays the angel Moroni rebuking Joseph Smith. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

A scene in the 2016 presentation of the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, depicts Joseph Smith translating the gold plates while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple during the Mormon Miracle Pageant, actors depict Zarahemnah battling with Captain Moroni. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple during the Mormon Miracle Pageant, actors portray Zarahemnah running with his army of Lamanites. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Dancers and actors depict the declining righteousness of the Nephite nation in a scene from the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, on June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The 50th season of the Mormon Miracle Pageant has a cast of more than 1,100 people. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene unfolding on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple during the Mormon Miracle Pageant, actors portray pioneers crossing the plains to Utah. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

In a scene during the Mormon Miracle Pageant, actors portray a United States Army officer meeting with Brigham Young at the time the Mormon Battalion was to be formed. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Actors portray angels singing from the wall of the Manti Utah Temple during a scene in the Mormon Miracle Pageant on June 15, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.