It's the second to last year for the Latter-day Saints' annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, and interest is high
MANCHESTER — When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced last year that it would end its flagship pageant — the Hill Cumorah Pageant, held at the site where the Mormon faith has its roots — in 2020, pageant organizers received a flood of applications from people hoping to participate in the pageant as well as those hoping to come see it.
This year, more than 70 percent of the cast has never participated in the annual production, which launched for its 82nd year on Thursday. Usually, the production is split evenly between experienced cast members and people new to its choreography, timing and intense rehearsals, according to pageant staff.
"I am excited to work with so many new cast members who are going to bring such spirit," said Shawnda Moss, the pageant's first female artistic director. "I think there's going to be heart and passion, and the audience will be touched by that."
Organizers expected such huge crowds they added an additional performance and 3,000 chairs this year. The pageant opened Thursday and, despite considerable rainfall, it saw some 5,200 in attendance.
Presented annually since 1937, the pageant is a theatrical representation of scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Performances begin nightly at 9 p.m. at Hill Cumorah off Route 21 in Manchester, near the Palmyra town line and 2 miles north of Exit 43 on the Thruway. The remaining performances are July 16-20 (Tuesday through Saturday). There is seating provided for 8,000 guests. Visitors will be able to don retired pageant costumes for photo booth pictures. Food is provided on-site by local service groups, with food tents opening at 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. Headsets are provided for Spanish translation, and American Sign Language interpretation is provided.
More than 760 volunteers are cast into 1,200 roles within hours of arriving, with the cast supported by a volunteer staff of 150. The cast also contributes a collective 1,800 hours of community service in the region, throughout Ontario, Wayne and Monroe counties.
The pageant traces its origins to an annual conference of missionaries of the Eastern States Mission, held at the Smith farm where church founder Joseph Smith once lived. The "Cumorah Conference" coincided with July 24 and a celebration of Pioneer Day, the day Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first wagon train of early Latter-day Saints. The conference crew to include more missionaries and expanded to four days of sermons, athletic events, a pilgrimage to Hill Cumorah and entertainment that included dramatic presentations of church history and scenes from the Book of Mormon — initially presented by a cast of 30 to an audience of 200. It became an annual event in the mid 1930s.
Since then, the pageant has evolved from a small production using car headlights to light the stage to a major extravaganza including water features, explosions, earthquakes and balls of fire.
“I hear from so many people who’ve said they’ve always wanted to go but never have,” stated Neil Pitts, pageant president. “There is no other experience like this in the Rochester region. We only have two years left, so you will want to come see it.”
For more information, call 315-597-5851, visit hillcumorah.org or visit the Hill Cumorah Pageant's Facebook page.