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'Mormon Miracle Pageant': The story behind one of the largest outdoor productions in the world

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

A scene from the "Mormon Miracle Pageant."

SCOTT G. WINTERTON, Deseret News Archives

MANTI — For several nights each summer, the picturesque hillside below the Manti Utah Temple becomes the site of one of the largest outdoor productions in the world.

The event draws an average of 100,000 people each season. The production comes with a cast of more than 950 performers, including 650 under age 18. Approximately 400 people set up (and later take down) about 14,000 metal folding chairs. Another several hundred people — the directing crew, wardrobe and make-up artists, ushers and security personnel, the stage and production crew, as well as those who serve dinner to the cast — volunteer in various ways. The Sanpete County Search and Rescue and the Manti-Ephraim Emergency Medical Technicians are also on hand to assist when needed. Lastly, dozens of Primary children and adult leaders from local wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walk the temple grounds the morning after performances to clean up trash.

“I doubt there are this many volunteers for an ongoing project anywhere else,” said Merilyn Jorgensen, a longtime Manti resident.

All the manpower is enlisted for the purpose of presenting the “Mormon Miracle Pageant.” This annual LDS Church-sponsored production intertwines the stories of the Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the gospel and how Mormon pioneers came to the Sanpete Valley into a demonstration of music, drama and dance that expresses love for Jesus Christ.

This year’s pageant runs June 20-22 and 25-29. Each performance begins at 9:30 p.m. Admission is free.

The Mormon Miracle Pageant has both entertained and enlightened more than 4.5 million visitors since it started in 1967, according to mormonmiracle.org. The history of the pageant is full of community service, creative solutions, religious dedication and family tradition, said Jorgensen, who has been involved with the production for three decades and is now the pageant’s historian.

“It’s done amazing things for the people of the Sanpete Valley,” she said. “It’s been a family affair,” Jorgensen said.

Beginnings

The idea for the "Mormon Miracle Pageant" began with Grace Johnson, an author and lecturer who thought there ought to be a work portraying a picture of both Mormon theology and history in a single presentation. She felt the story should not only be factual, but also carry a feeling.

“It’s so easy to become complacent and forget about the impact the Mormon story had on the settlement of America,” Johnson said, according to the pageant’s history on its website. “The story of the church … with its constant movement westward … was a factor that completely changed the face of America.”

Johnson began presenting the LDS Church’s story as a dramatic lecture to Rotary and Kiwanis clubs throughout the United States. In 1947, she was invited to give her presentation at the Salt Lake Tabernacle as part of the centennial celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah.

Johnson’s work, “The Mormon Miracle,” was published by Deseret Book Company.

In 1964, Brigham Young University sponsored a production of the story using a cast and 75-member choir. It was also presented at the LDS Church’s college in Hawaii.

Johnson’s story was eventually presented in Ephraim, Utah, where a number of people were discussing what could be done to hold a more meaningful July 24 celebration, according to mormonmiracle.org.

“Why not dramatize Grace Johnson’s ‘Mormon Miracle?’” Someone asked.

The idea stuck.

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