Musical production helps spread gospel

Nestled high among the hills, the Oakland Temple stands like a bright beacon, proclaiming the gospel to all who look upward at the golden spires.

This week, the temple was accompanied in its mission to spread the gospel with a musical pageant, "And It Came to Pass," that opened July 14 to a warm response from a near-capacity audience.About 2,000 attended at the Oakland Interstake Center on the temple grounds, and rewarded performers with an enthusiastic standing ovation. Some non-members who attended commented in glowing words on the production.

Some 30,000 people are expected to see one of the production's 15 performances, including dignitaries from the surrounding communities.

The pageant played July 15, 18-22, and continues through July 25-29. Evening performances begin at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Admission is free, but tickets, obtained at the visitors center, are required.

Although new music has been added to replace old songs, and the original three acts condensed again and again, the perennial favorite still draws large crowds.

The pageant, first presented 25 years ago, depicts the establishment by Jesus Christ of His Church on the earth, the apostasy, attempts at reformation by sincere men, the Restoration of the gospel, and the Pioneers' westward trek under Brigham Young.

Created by James Ira Young and R. Whitney Groo Jr., the pageant was first presented in 1964 to commemorate the dedication of the temple. It was adapted by Kieth Merrill in 1979.

Putting the pageant together takes time, effort, willing hands, commitment and hard work.

Producer Norvel "Bud" Alexander of Union City 1st Ward said production starts a year prior to the scheduled date.

"We draft a tentative calendar, which has to be centered around the facility in which the pageant is presented, the Interstake Center," he explained. "Then we make contact with our priesthood advisory board, assimilate their directions and work out a budget.

"Still months ahead of time, we must find the talent and staff the project. In all, more than 1,000 are involved. For every key position, 10 people are qualified. So you spread the blessings around, rotate the work and bring in newcomers. Most people will not be asked to do the same job or get the same part for more than two consecutive years."

Doyle West of Castro Valley 2nd Ward produced the original 1964 production, which opened to a capacity audience.

"At one of the performances, there was a local radio commentator, John K. Chappel, in the audience," West recalled. "Although not a member of the Church, he liked what he saw and raved on his show about the wonderful production on the Mormon Temple grounds. The lines got longer and longer. Fortunately, the Interstake Center calendar had the following weekend open so that we could offer additional performances, but we still couldn't accommodate the numbers waiting to get a seat."

Today, the three acts have been tailored to occupy two hours, and the pageant is performed every third year.

The singers as well as the dancers are accompanied by the Oakland Region Mormon Symphony Orchestra under direction of Garland Andrews of San Ramon 1st Ward.

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