Will 'Mormon Moment' boost attendance at Hill Cumorah Pageant?

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 3:35 p.m. MDT

MANCHESTER, N.Y. — With the LDS Church's annual Hill Cumorah Pageant scheduled to open its seven-performance run in Manchester, Ontario County, N.Y., Friday night, area news outlets are wondering if burgeoning national interest in all things Mormon will increase attendance at the 74-year-old production.

"The pageant will go on as it has every year since 1937," writes Jill Terreri in the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y., "but this year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has captured national attention as two of its adherents are running for president and the Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon," was this year's big Tony Award-winner.

"'There's a lot of curiosity right now, which is kind of fun,' said Heather Gist, a member of the Hill Cumorah cast who traveled from Utah to be a part of the show with her husband and four children.

"If the attention, which includes a Newsweek cover story on Mormon prominence of late, brings more people to the sprawling hill with its massive stage, that's a good thing," Gist said.

"'That's one of the best parts of this pageant,' she said. 'We get to talk to people who come for whatever reason.'"

In a news story on WHAM, an ABC-TV affiliate, reporter Angela Hong spoke to another pageant participant, Benjamin King, who said he believes it will be a while before Mormonism is considered mainstream, but is happy to see the church get more attention.

"'To see it more accepted on television and people getting the right idea about who we are, that makes me feel a lot better,' King says."

The Hill Cumorah Pageant will be presented Friday and Saturday of this week, and will continue July 12-16. It features a cast of some 700 people, and usually draws crowds in excess of 30,000 people during the course of its annual run.

The pageant is performed on the Hill Cumorah site, which is located on Route 21 between Manchester and Palmyra, N.Y. The LDS Church teaches that the Hill Cumorah is the location to which an angel named Moroni directed church founder Joseph Smith so that he could find the gold plates upon which was written the Book of Mormon.

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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