Hill Cumorah Pageant

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Hill Cumorah Pageant
Hill Cumorah Pageant logo
Written byThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Date premieredJuly 23, 1937
SubjectAncient American events reported in the Book of Mormon, the visitation of Christ to the American continent following his resurrection, and the restoration of the Gospel in the latter days.
SettingFoot of the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, United States
Official site

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is an annual production of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) staged at the foot of the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, United States. Premiering in 1937, it is considered to be the flagship pageant of the LDS Church.[1] The church has announced the pageant will end in 2020.[2] It depicts Joseph Smith's encounter with the Golden Plates (translated into English as the Book of Mormon), as well as a dramatization of the events recorded therein. The pageant features more than 700 cast members, 1,300 costumes, and a 10-level stage. It runs for seven nights in late July and attracts approximately 35,000 viewers annually. No donations are accepted and no tickets are required, although seating is first-come, first-served.


The pageant traces its roots back to the early 1920s and the "Cumorah Conference" of the Eastern States Mission,[3] which was held each year annually in late July. Mission president B. H. Roberts would take some of his missionaries from New York City and travel to Palmyra and the recently acquired Smith Family Farm to celebrate Pioneer Day, acting out scenes from the Book of Mormon and LDS Church history as part of the commemoration.[1] Over the next decade, the conference grew in duration and scale, and New York University English professor H. Wayne Driggs wrote the script America's Witness for Christ for the first official performance of the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which premiered on July 23, 1937.[1][3]

The pageant advanced technologically over the next few decades, with stereophonic sound inventor Harvey Fletcher designing, building, and installing a five-track recording system; and Crawford Gates composing an original score for the pageant, which was recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony Orchestra in 1957. In 1973, LDS Church president Harold B. Lee visited the pageant and called for a phasing out of full-time missionaries in the pageant. Consequently, the cast has since consisted entirely of regular church members. In 1988, Orson Scott Card was tasked with writing a new script. He was instructed to make the script "accessible to a modern audience, targeting the non-scripture-reading, non-Mormon young adult," which he did in part by making the new version approximately 40 minutes shorter than the previous one.[1]

In 1991, local service organizations were invited to provide snacks and meals to pageant visitors. The offer was accepted by Rotary International, Lions Clubs International, and Kiwanis International, which have turned the pageant into their primary annual fund-raising event.[1] In 1997, Donny Osmond left his starring role in the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to participate with his family in the cast of the pageant.[4] Osmond played the role of the prophet Samuel the Lamanite.[5]

Brent Hanson, a faculty member at Southern Virginia University, served as the pageant's artistic director from 2005 until 2018.[6][7] Starting at the end of the 2018 season, Utah educator Shawnda Moss replaced Hanson as artistic director.[8]

During the 2012 season, the pageant held festivities and reunions in commemoration of its 75th anniversary.[9]

The New York Times contrasted the pageant's sincerity with the raucous tone of another major production, the satirical Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.[3]


A scene in the Hill Cumorah Pageant depicting Nephi's vision of the Tree of Life

The pageant is 70 minutes in duration and depicts the overarching story of the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe Joseph Smith translated from Golden Plates he received from an angel on the Hill Cumorah itself. The pageant also includes the story of Smith's encounter with the angel, Moroni.[10]

The script for the pageant is taken from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, including ten short story scenes:[11]

  1. The Prophet Lehi
  2. The Visions of Christ
  3. The Building of a Ship
  4. The Voyage to Ancient America
  5. The Burning of Abinadi
  6. The Ministry of Alma
  7. The Prophecy: A Day, A Night and a Day
  8. The Resurrected Christ Appears to Ancient Americans
  9. The Written Word: A Golden Message
  10. The Restoration of Christ's Kingdom

Cast, setting, and special effects[edit]

Stage of the pageant on the Hill Cumorah

The pageant's cast includes approximately 700 people. Prospective cast members, many from outside New York State,[3] apply online between the previous August and November. Since the pageant soundtrack is prerecorded by professional actors, with singing by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, cast members need only to memorize movements and follow cues. The show opens after only a week of intensive rehearsals, and it closes after seven performances.[12]

Over 1,300 costumes are utilized for the pageant, which plays out on a 10-level stage. Special effects include earthquakes, floods, and fireballs.[3]

There are 8,000 chairs available for audience seating in a large outdoor "bowl" at the foot of the stage, which is built on many levels up the side of the hill. Audience members may also bring their own chairs and blankets. Parking is available for 3,000 cars. The pageant attracts approximately 35,000 visitors annually.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e Argetsinger, Gerald S. (2004). "The Hill Cumorah Pageant: A Historical Perspective". Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. 13 (1–2).
  2. ^ https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900045156/mormon-church-finalizes-pageant-decision-4-to-end-3-to-continue.html
  3. ^ a b c d e f Applebome, Peter (13 July 2011). "A Mormon Spectacle, Way Off Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Donny Osmond Sheds Dreamcoat To Star in Mormon Pageant July 11–19". Playbill. 12 July 1997. Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Mormon spirit moves Osmond". New York Daily News. 9 July 1997. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  6. ^ "Dixie State University Theatre Department Faculty". Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  7. ^ "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: Brent Hanson Extended Interview". Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  8. ^ "Hill Cumorah Pageant Facebook post". Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  9. ^ Rappleye, Christine (18 September 2011). "Hill Cumorah Pageant to celebrate 75th anniversary in 2012". Deseret News. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  10. ^ Argetsinger, Gerald S. (1992), "Cumorah Pageant", in Ludlow, Daniel H (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, p. 347, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140
  11. ^ "Program Information". Hill Cumorah Pageant. Retrieved 2009-01-28.
  12. ^ Abcarian, Robin (17 July 2011). "A grand display of Mormon faith". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 January 2012.

External links[edit]