The "City of Joseph," which tells the story of Nauvoo in song and dance, opened to a crowd of 7,000-8,000 viewers July 28 at the four-acre amphitheater here.
The 450-member cast gave a riveting performance to an audience that filled the expansive lawn in front of the stage area.The words of the opening song, "Bend of the River," welcomed the audience with the questions: "Have you ever seen such an evening? Have you ever seen such a sky?" A dazzling sunset over the Mississippi River, the panoramic background for the five-level stage, made those questions easy to answer.
The "City of Joseph" includes 12 songs composed and arranged by Maughan McMurdie, a retired professor of music at Western Illinois University. The songs tell the story of everyday life in Nauvoo. The humorous tale of a young courting couple, Martin and Amy, was featured in the song "Longtime Friends." During the song, Martin discovers Amy's childhood freckles have disappeared and begins to find her more interesting than lunch time. The mature love of a married couple, William and Emily, who are facing years of separation due to a Church mission call, reached the hearts of husbands and wives in the audience during the poignant and tearful "I'll Think of You."
In addition to the emotion-filled music, the story of Nauvoo was brought to life in dance by a troupe of more than 20 young people who performed intricate steps and stunning lifts designed by choreographer Norma Barrowes. The specialty dancers were showcased in the songs "City of Joseph" and "How Do You Build a City?" Breathtaking lifts were a part of the dancers routines, reaching their pinnacle of difficulty in the Fourth of July scene "We Believe." Their finale prepared the audience for a stunning fireworks display immediately afterward.
The cast received a standing ovation for its performance from the overflow crowd. The ovation was given to the cast but equally deserved by "City of Joseph" author and producer Don Oscarson, executive director Gerald Bench and director Lynn Bodily. Admission was free.
Performances continued July 29 and Aug. 1-6.