Easter pageant draws record crowds

History was made this year on the grounds of the Arizona Temple as the Easter pageant "Jesus the Christ" was presented in Spanish for the first time on opening night. In addition, attendance for the six-day run reached a record-breaking 80,000.

Great weather and publicity, including favorable television coverage, helped the 55th annual Easter pageant draw large crowds, said pageant chairman Douglas Holladay."It's the first time in the history of the pageant that we reached 80,000," he said. He also estimated that one-fourth to one-third of the audience were non-LDS.

The Spanish performance of the pageant was held on April 3 and increased the traditional five-day, outdoor production to six days, with the English performances running April 6-10.

"We understand it was the first time on American soil that a Church-sponsored pageant was presented bilingually," said pageant director Lund Johnson. "We felt it was a way to reach people we could not reach otherwise."

Brother Holladay said the Spanish performance was added this year to better meet the needs of the community.

"We have as many as half a million Spanish-speaking people in the area and a substantial number of these people are not bilingual," he said. In past years, headphones were available but there were not enough to meet the demand.

"[Presenting the pageant in SpanishT was a way to grow and to improve upon the goal of the pageant, which is to bring people to Christ," he added.

A written translation of the pageant's narration and dialogue was completed in Mesa, then sent to Salt Lake City where it was recorded in Spanish. Plans are underway to translate and record the words of the pageant's music in Spanish to make a complete translation in time for next year's performance.

About 30 of the 360-member cast were also bilingual and they, along with Spanish-speaking full-time missionaries, mingled each night with the audience before the production, which covers the life of Christ from His birth to resurrection.

"The response was tremendous," said Brother Holladay. "Even minutes after performances were over, many people remained in their seats with tears in their eyes."

He added that people came from neighboring states and from as far away as Mexico to see the pageant, and many expressed plans to return next year bringing friends and family.

Brother Johnson explained that several changes were made in the production this year. A new dramatic opening scene included cast members entering onto a dark stage with flashlights in their hands. Then the actor portraying Christ, standing on an upper level of the stage, was spotlighted. He is introduced as the "light of the world."

The song, "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked," was re-introduced in the closing scene of the pageant. It had been eliminated a few years ago. Pageant-goer Doreen Stradling of the Dana Ward, Mesa Arizona Pueblo Stake, said she was glad the song had been put back in, and she thought that it added a more spiritual ending.

For the second year, cast members in costume went into the audience nightly before the performance. Cast members were encouraged to learn about the character that they portrayed and were able to tell members of the audience about that character.

Cast member Nancy Turner, in her first year in the pageant, said she was hesitant at first to mingle with the audience but found people to be receptive of her and other cast members.

"It was fun to meet people from all over," she said. "We talked to people from Maine to California, and from Florida to Washington, and from Canada."

She said she was surprised that people wanted to take her picture, and children asked for her autograph. "They made me feel special," she added. "I would love to come back and do this again."

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