40,000 attend largest ‘City of Joseph’ pageant ever

When more than 420 people combine efforts to bring to life the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith despite severe Illinois heat and humidity, their message must be one of conviction and dedication.

And so it was for the record-size cast of this year's "City of Joseph" production, staged Aug. 9-13 near a bend in the Mississippi River in historic Nauvoo, Ill.Now in its 13th year, "City of Joseph" blends elements to soften hearts and spirits with the message of the city, the Prophet Joseph and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Oh, that the world could know the Prophet Joseph," said Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy to cast members.

"And in a very significant and real way, that is what you are doing. Carry in your hearts the message that is here," said Elder Dunn, who is president of the North America Central Area and president of Nauvoo Restoration Inc.

"City of Joseph" was written and produced by R. Don Oscarson, president of the Milwaukee Wisconsin stake, and composed by Maughan W. McMurdie of Macomb, Ill.

This year's five-night run was a record breaker in many ways. Nearly 40,000 people attended the production, 82 percent of them non-members, with about 50 percent attending for the first time, said Steve Thomsen, assistant publicity director.

In addition, "City of Joseph" attracted cast members from 17 states, some coming from as far away as California, New Jersey and New York.

The stage for this year's performance was the largest in the history of the pageant, with 6,000 additional square feet added to the five-level sod stage just east of the Church's visitors center.

Besides being full of energy and enthusiasm, Nauvoo's production carries a vital message, according to its author.

"You can't sit through `City of Joseph' without being taught all of the basic principles of the gospel," said Pres. Oscarson. "It also shows Joseph Smith the prophet as a well-rounded individual and one who, if you knew him, you would love."

"City of Joseph" also helps to bridge the gap of understanding in an area where much of the Church's early persecution took place, said McMurdie, also the show's musical director.

"The show tells the story of a misunderstood people in a very positive way. Some people who come with an antagonistic concept of the Church go away with a better feeling of love, compassion and understanding of what the Church is all about," he said.

In a time when much of the country has been plagued with severe drought, cast members prayed together for the weather to help the land but not hinder the production.

By the end of the musical, the area had received more rain in the two weeks than it had all summer. But when showtime came each night, the skies cleared and the cast was able to deliver its message. All felt their prayers had been answered, said Oscarson.

Before the production opened, the hundreds of cast members gathered to Nauvoo to begin rehearsals. Many braved the heat in campgrounds, and "vacation time" never entered their vocabularies.

But when opening night arrived, they felt all the sweat and tears were worth it. "When this multitude of actors, singers and dancers fill the five levels of our amphitheater, the sight is breathtaking," said F. Gerald Bench, the show's director.

Hundreds of visitors were also attracted to the third annual Nauvoo International Stick Pulling Championship and a parade through the streets of old Nauvoo, complete with a brass band and cast members in full costume.

"This is a great place to be," said Elder Dunn. "It's our heritage, whether you've always been a member or just baptized."

As those associated with "City of Joseph" begin preparing for next year, a line in the show reflects their sentiment: "And to our friends, the city beckons, `Come walk my quiet road, feel my spirit and the spirit of those who first were led to this lovely and peaceful bend in the river.' "