“The Mormon Miracle at Manti,” Ensign, July 1982, 75–76
It began with miraculous protection from a storm—and each year since its beginning, those who work with The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, are blessed abundantly for their efforts.
Pageant director Macksene Rux, who travels from Salt Lake City to live in Manti each summer during pageant rehearsals and performances, told the pageant committee in 1981: “It’s a big thrill to come down here and see what happens, and to work with a wonderful group of young people. But the thing that makes the pageant a success is the Spirit of the Lord. We could not do it without his help.”
The pageant is held on the south slope of the Manti Temple Hill, and a professional sound tape supports the actors. But it is the great spirit accompanying each presentation, a sense of peace and love and brotherhood, to which people respond. Over 100,000 people attend the event yearly.
The story told by the pageant begins in 1820, at the dawn of Church history, and then goes back into Book of Mormon times. The pageant reviews the promises made by the Lord to the people of America, and the bitter consequences of turning away from him. It also depicts the troubled period of the fledgling Church in New England and in the American heartland, and the long and arduous trek to the mountain valleys of the western United States.
It was to capture this story that author Grace Johnson first embarked on a lecture tour to Rotary-Kiwanis clubs in New England many years ago. “It’s so easy to become complacent and forget about the impact the ‘Mormon Story’ had on the settlement of America,” she said in a recent interview. She reflected that the establishment of the Church with its constant movement westward until it finally settled in what is now Utah “was a factor that completely changed the face of America.” Latter-day Saints “launched a thousand ships of immigration, flooding the New World with divergent cultures, bringing skills, trades, and arts with them to build a unique commonwealth as they worked together to make the barren desert blossom.”
Sister Johnson was requested by Church officials to present her lecture in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City as part of June Conference, 1947, commemorating the centennial anniversary of the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers in Utah. Published then, and offered for sale by Deseret Book, The Mormon Miracle was sponsored for a tour in six western states, given by Miss Johnson, concluding in the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City. Brigham Young University presented it in 1964 with a cast, narrators, and music provided by a 75-voice choir. The production was also offered as a baccalaureate service at the Church College of Hawaii. Sister Rux later adapted the original script into pageant form.
About 400 persons—farmers, businessmen and women, teachers, students, and sometimes entire families—now spend their evenings in rigorous rehearsal for six weeks before the pageant begins. Most come from towns in Sanpete Valley, but some return annually from Salt Lake City, Richfield, other parts of Utah, and some from other states. Hundreds more are involved in production and in maintaining physical facilities, in traffic control, and in providing for the comfort of those who attend.
France Peunzieux, now in her middle seventies, has been in the cast every year. Asked why she continues with the demanding schedule of rehearsals and eight nights of performance, France said that it is her way of spreading the gospel so others may know the joy she has found as a member of the Church.
France was locked out of her home in Switzerland when she joined the Church as a young woman. After five difficult years she met and married her husband, and they became parents of two lovely girls. She later brought her daughters to America, eventually settling in Manti.
Gary Magnusson joined the pageant cast in 1970 and has played the role of Mormon Battalion Captain Allen all but one or two years since. He has also assisted with directing and coaching Book of Mormon “warriors” and flag and armor bearers. A native of Castle Dale, Utah, Gary feels that the pageant fits into his missionary concept of life. He works in a Salt Lake school district and stays with a sister and her husband during the six weeks of rehearsal and production of The Mormon Miracle Pageant.
Although the pageant is an outdoor production and has never been rained out, starting time was delayed by wind and rain on the second Thursday and Friday evenings in 1981. Still, the unsettled weather seemed to exert a unifying influence on members of the cast. The final Saturday performance was flawless, and the warmth and beauty of the night was enjoyed by all.
There were tears shed, together with fond “good-byes” among friends and leaders as each went their separate ways after the final performance. But the farewells are softened as cast members echo, “See you next year!”
Pageant dates for 1982 are July 8, 9, 10, and 13 through 17.