Mormon Miracle Pageant opens for final season
By James Tilson
MANTI—With anticipation and nostalgia, the Mormon Miracle Pageant will start its last run, with performances Thursday through Saturday this week, and Tuesday through Saturday next week.
With people not wanting to miss out on the final season, the Pageant has attracted the largest cast ever, and Pageant leaders expect some of the largest crowds in many years.
Some have wondered if the production would feature special new scenes, or perhaps some tribute to Pageants past. But according to director Denise Hagemeister, there will be a few “tweaks,” but the audience will not be able to tell any difference from past productions.
“If they don’t know the difference, why tell them?” Hagemeister says. She notes the overall production will be 2 minutes shorter than last year, mainly by eliminating some superfluous elements, like crowd noise during one scene. “Very, very, very minor changes,” as she puts it.
Pageant President Milton Olsen says everyone on the cast is raring to go. “The cast is amazingly committed. They get everywhere on time, do what they need to do, have been enthusiastic and excited,” he says. “They’ve just been amazing to work with.”
Olsen says the expected crowds have pushed their facilities crews to the limits of their equipment. “We’ve set up every chair we have, and we still have room for a thousand more. But we’ve done everything we can to be ready. We’re ready to go.”
The excitement started building on Oct. 27, 2018 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a message on its website stating that while local celebrations of history and culture may be appropriate, “larger productions such as pageants are discouraged.”
The announcement said conversations were underway between Church headquarters and local leaders to “appropriately end, modify or continue these productions.”
After consulting with Elder Ronald Rasband of the Council of the Twelve, President Mark Olson of the Manti Utah Stake announced the 2019 season would mark “the end of the Pageant as we know it.”
President Olson of the Manti Stake said ultimately, ending the Mormon Miracle Pageant was part of the Church’s move toward being a home-centered and church-supported religion.
“The Church is looking to reduce and simplify programs,” he said, “and take away heavy responsibilities from individuals and families.”
With the announcement, people in Utah and around the Mountain West started arranging to get to Manti.
Katelon Rey-Grant, owner of the Yardley Inn and Spa in Manti, says her phone started ringing within 24 hours of the October web post.
Callers were saying things like, “We just have to come, because I got my testimony [at the Pageant] when I was 13,” and “My husband proposed to me during the Pageant and we got married in the Manti Temple.”
“We’ve been 100 percent full for the past two months,” Grant said a week before the Pageant started. “I had someone who had to cancel yesterday, and I filled it in one hour.”
So many people were pleading for accommodations that she and her husband decided to rent out space to two families in their luxury fifth wheel.
Leila Jacobsen, manager of Willow Creek Inn in Ephraim, says her 58-room hotel was 99 percent booked for the Pageant by Dec. 31, 2018.
“Once in a great while, I get a cancellation, and then I go to my call list” of people who still want accommodations, she says. “Everything in a 50-mile radius is booked.”
Based on forecasts from the National Weather Service, Mother Nature will cooperate with the final Pageant. A cool and damp spring appears to be giving way to a sunny and warm summer. Temperatures are predicted to hover around 80 degrees this week and next. Chances for rain are slight to zero.
More than 1,000 cast members will perform this year, and some scenes will feature more 800 people on the “stage” at once.
“This is the most people in the Pageant I’ve ever seen,” Olsen says. “But it looks great. We will have over 400 angels for the final scene, and that’s the most ever.
“We’re excited for the next two weeks, he adds. “We’re all buckled in!”