Until this year, Michael Bennett had never been to the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York.
Which is odd.
He has performed in the pageant for the past 26 years.
Bennett is the voice of Lehi — four different Lehis, actually.
In the 26 years since cutting the tape of Lehi's voice, Bennett has kept busy. He has fashioned himself into a gem of the Utah theater scene. His one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” is a classic. And he has appeared in dozens of stage plays, films and television spots.
But that moment on the Hill Cumorah, when he returned to hear himself take on the personality of prophet once again, stands out as a pinnacle.
It’s best that he tell the tale in his own words:
“It was in February of 1988,” Bennett says. “My agent had called me and suggested that I audition for the LDS Church. They were preparing a new voice tape for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Well, they hired me. I recorded the voice of Lehi. It was just another job. And yet, it was not just another job. I felt a feeling akin to knowing what Lehi knew and feeling what he felt. And last week I felt it all again.”
After a quarter of a century, Bennett and his wife, Jan, decided this was the year they had to finally see the production.
“The kicker came when I walked up the Hill Cumorah toward the huge stage and into an area reserved for cast members,” Bennett says. “I approached a pair of young men who were lounging on the ground and asked them how long the current voice tape had been used. When they said ‘26 years,’ I raised my fist like a kid and said ‘Yes!’ Things just went up from there. The word was out. I was suddenly a celebrity.”
The next day, the Bennetts showed up at the pageant and were quickly greeted by directors, local authorities and the man in charge of casting, Jim Christian, who is also head of the theater department at Weber State University.
“He happened to live in one of our daughter’s wards, so we had a lot to talk about,” says Bennett.
At the devotional before the dress rehearsal, Bennett says he met about 600 of the 700 cast members.
That night they had seats on the front row.
“It was extraordinary,” Bennett says. “I was mesmerized. Hearing my voice being spoken by others was emotional enough, but I got the same ‘being there’ feelings I’d had 26 years earlier. I cried. And I don’t cry easily.”
Earlier in this piece, Bennett mentioned something as “the kicker.”
But that wasn’t the kicker.
This is the kicker:
At the same time Michael Bennett was recording the voice of Lehi, his son Geoffrey — fresh off a mission to Norway — was asked to record the voice of Nephi.
His voice is still being used in the pageant as well.
Lehi and Nephi.
Michael and Geoff.
A father and a son.
It was then, and remains today, Bennett says, one of God’s “tender mercies.”
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company