Ahush swept over the audience at the Hill Cumorah Pageant on opening night, July 7, as the white-clad figure representing the Savior descended from the black sky to visit inhabitants of the ancient Americas. The digitally recorded sound of the Salt Lake City Children's Choir added to the poignancy of the moment as the actor descended, cradled little children in his arms, portrayed the healing of a sick child and mingled with the children.
Little Brooke Ahern, 4, could not restrain herself, surprising the cast by breaking loose from her assigned position on stage and running across the stage to wrap her arms around his legs in a spontaneous burst of joyous abandonment. He definitely made her feel her Savior's love.Many non-members who witness the "descending Christ" scene are moved to tears. It is the most touching moment of the spectacular production, now in its 58th year with a run July 7-8 and 11-15.
Press Day was held July 5. TV camera crews and reporters scrambled about the mammoth stage (half the size of a football field) in order to get a better view of the rehearsal of the "vision" scenes presented that day especially for the media. WXXI-TV from Rochester, a public television station, filmed some of the production aspects of the pageant for a children's series it intends to produce in three segments for the fall season. The purpose of the series is to teach children and youth how to learn skills they could use later on in life.
Station personnel interviewed directors, children in the cast, and the work crew of 17- and 18-year-olds who work with Hollywood professional Rick Josephsen of Spanish Fork, Utah. They help him under the stage create a 37-foot high erupting volcano, fire balls, water effects, earthquakes, lightning and general mayhem for the destruction scene before the descension of Christ.
The television station reporters also interviewed the 10 young men who man the 30-50-foot-high light towers and work the lights during the pageant. These young men are trained by professionals and learn a new skill while at pageant.
One local newspaper reported: "It is being predicted locally that there will be major upheavals occurring here July 7-8 and 11-15. Volcanoes will erupt, earthquakes shake, thunder roll, a prophet will be burned at the stake, and the resurrected white-clad figure of Christ will descend from the night sky. It will occur when the Hill Cumorah Pageant, the largest and oldest outdoor drama in America, opens its 58th year July 7."
The article goes on to say: "In the tradition of the great religious pageants started in the Middle Ages, a costumed processional of cast members parade through the audience to the strains of the processional march. The march through the audience is colorful - warriors with swords, battle-axes, and shields, exotic court dancers, prophets, priests, kings, believers and unbelievers, and whole families are part of the march."
Bob Lonsberry, a member of the Church and a local talk-show host and columnist, wrote a locally syndicated article expressing thanks to the community for "playing host to the descending hordes. Your forbearance and warmth are appreciated," he said and explained: "Mormons hold this area special, even sacred. Mormons believe special things happened here, and beet farmers from Idaho, and factory workers in Utah and college professors in Brazil, dream and plan to save to make a trip to New York to see the Pageant."
He said that a countryside that is routine and unspectacular to those around the area becomes somehow "magical to people who have seen it only in history books and in their imagination."
The front page of the entertainment section of a local newspaper contained the picture of a young work-crew member, Daniel Cordell of Seattle, Wash., working at the top of the tiered stage. It was titled "King of the Hill." The article was syndicated locally in many other newspapers. The Democrat and Chronicle, the major newspaper in the area, did an article telling of the economic impact of the pageant to the area as tourists fill hotels and campgrounds.
The response to newspaper stories and advertising has been tremendous, said Burt Oliphant from Glendive, Mont., who is a full-time public affairs missionary with his wife, Peggy. "We receive at least 50 calls each day, and 90 percent of them are from non-members asking about the pageant. They report that they either read the story in the newspaper, heard about it on radio, on TV, or saw it in the entertainment or travel sections of a magazine or newspaper. The word about the Hill Cumorah Pageant really seems to be out this
Pageant president Troy Hall said, "We have cars in the parking lot from every state in the Union."
The missionaries have been teaching an "each-one-bring-one" program initiated by former mission president, Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy. They held meetings throughout the mission to train the members how to invite their non-member friends to the pageant. Six of the missionaries have been working each day at the pageant training the cast members to go out into the audience in costume and "build bridges of friendship" with the audience. It is an opportunity for the audience to view the colorful costumes designed by Gail Argetsinger, wife of the director, Jerry Argetsinger.