NAUVOO, Ill. On a clear Illinois evening, about 4,000 people viewed the first performance of the new Nauvoo Pageant July 8. In story and song, the pageant depicts the establishment and development of the city of Nauvoo by members of the Church in 1839-46.
Under the leadership of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Latter-day Saints drained a swamp and built a city that in its day rivaled Chicago in size. The pageant, successor to the long-running "City of Joseph" production that ended last year, tells the story of immigrant families working to follow their prophet and build a temple and a community where they could worship freely and live joyfully.
Pageant guests joined costumed cast members in pre-show activities. Children ran sack races, rolled hoops and tried marble games and pioneer toys, while families danced, quilted, helped braid rugs and joined log-sawing and stick-pulling contests. The pre-show activities will be held each evening that the pageant is presented.
As time neared for the pageant to begin, a troupe of bagpipers and drummers led the parade of cast members and visitors to the performance area. Pageant President Jack Renouf welcomed the audience with the motto, "There's never a better time to see Nauvoo."
The pageant is narrated by a character representing Parley P. Pratt, an apostle in early Church history. His spirited description highlights experiences familiar to Latter-day Saints: the Prophet welcoming newcomers to Nauvoo, digging of the ditches that drained the swamps, the healings by Joseph and other members of the priesthood, the arrival and welcome of Jane Manning, an early African-American convert to the Church, the death and funeral of King Follett (a Church member for whom Joseph Smith gave a eulogy memorable for its doctrinal teachings), laying out the plan for the city and building the temple.
The story line relates the experiences of Robert and Becky Laird. Becky is a young wife baptized in Scotland by Brigham Young and "on fire" with a testimony of God's love and His calling of a new prophet in America. Robert is a reluctant follower of his much-loved wife.
Through costume and backdrop, story and song, the gospel message is clear: Joseph was a prophet; the gospel is restored; Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world; God loves all His children and can bring peace to their hearts.
Presentation of the new pageant has garnered substantial news media attention, said President Renouf, who noted that 25 representatives attended a pre-pageant "Media Day," including three television stations and a number of radio stations and newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune. They viewed a special presentation of part of the pageant.
"They loved the pageant!" he exclaimed. "I was concerned how people would respond to it." But, he said the setting was very appealing, with the Mississippi River to the west and a view of the recently reconstructed Nauvoo Illinois Temple to the east. Also impressive, he said, is a special effect in which it appears the temple is constructed on stage.
Elder Jon Larson, a public affairs missionary serving in Nauvoo, said a radio station in nearby Carthage the city where the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844 did a 30-minute news broadcast from the pageant site, with interviews of a number of key persons involved, including director David Warner, President Renouf and key cast members.
He said local Nauvoo residents were being invited to a "Nauvoo night" of the pageant, in which they would be treated to a cookout and special seating for the show. The pageant runs through Aug. 8, except Sundays and Mondays.
Contributing: R. Scott Lloyd
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