'Mormon miracle' unfolds at pageant

Converts of six years, the family from Mexico had been saving four years to come to Manti, Utah, for the Mormon Miracle Pageant. Now, with tears in his eyes, the father expressed how thrilling it was to finally be here.

This man was just one of many who seemed elated to be attending the production, said Richard Olsen, who plays General Mormon in the pageant. Many others - nearly 60,000 - were drawn to watch the first three nights of the performance July 7-9. More than 140,000 are estimated to have attended the eight nights of the pageant, which also ran July 12-16.Staged on the hillside below the Manti Temple, the pageant depicts the story of the Restoration, highlights scenes from the Book of Mormon including the visit of Christ to the American continent, and portrays the migration west and the settling of Sanpete Valley.

This year, new scenery and authentic costumes have been added to the performances. In preparing for the pageant, countless hours were spent practicing in the Manti Seminary Building, where folding chairs substituted for handcarts. There then seemed to be a kind of magic when the practices moved to Temple Hill.

More than 1,000 people are participating this year, with about 400 in the cast. According to assistant director Helen Dyreng, many families from throughout the Sanpete area are involved. She added that many cast members return with some sacrifice year after year. There are some who have been in the cast for most of the 28 years of the pageant.

When children are small, they might be cast as a family group. Then as children become older, they may be chosen for leading roles, or the boys may be chosen as Jaredite, Nephite or Lamanite warriors or as missionaries. The girls may be angels, Lamanite or Nephite dancers.

Regardless of their roles - if you speak of the spirit of the pageant - cast members spoke of the feeling of warmth, love and comraderie they feel as they wait for their time to perform.

During a testimony meeting for cast members July 10, Valerie Nielson, who plays a wicked Nephite in the production, said that every year she has learned something new. She said, "The message from me is, `The Church is true.' " She talked of how people come from all over the world to see the pageant.

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