MESA, Arizona — The Arizona Easter Pageant, “Jesus the Christ,” recognized as the world’s largest annual outdoor Easter pageant, marks a number of historic firsts in this, the 69th anniversary of the event.

For the first time, an NFL star will be among the cast, playing the part of a Roman soldier.

This year will also be the first time a man playing the role of Jesus Christ as an adult will be joined by his own son depicting Christ as a child.

With a cast of 400 and 400 more participating as production staff, “Jesus the Christ,” presents Christ’s life, ministry, and mission through music, dance, and drama. Originally held as a choral sunrise service atop a wooden cotton wagon, the pageant has evolved into a full-scale, professional theater production, with a 9,600 square-foot stage, towering four-stories high.

“This presentation is beautiful and majestic as it focuses on the mission and miracles of Jesus Christ,” said pageant director Nanci Wudel. “It is family-appropriate and wonderful for all ages.”

She said the traditional portrayal has been enhanced over the years and, those familiar with the pageant will notice some alterations again this year.

“We are very excited about this year’s Easter Pageant, especially with some changes that are wonderful,” Wudel said. “You will see some substantial changes in choreography, as well as in other areas.”

In addition, Taitusi “Duece” Lutui, a starting offensive guard with the Arizona Cardinals, will participate in this year’s pageant. Excited to have the 6’5”, 375-pound NFL star audition for the part of one of the nine Roman soldiers, Wudel said they weren’t sure at first if an existing costume and helmet would fit. Lutui joked that if the Roman solider helmet wouldn’t fit, perhaps he could wear his old USC Trojan helmet.

Wudel said, in addition to Lutui, “We are so blessed again to have many talented actors with us, including Doug Shumway, who will portray the part of Christ for our Spanish performances. Doug is an incredible person and a skilled actor. And, of course, Robert Allen, who does an exceptional job, is back to portray Christ in our English performances.”

Shumway and Allen both are involved in another first for the pageant. Both men have sons who also will represent Christ at younger ages. Shumway’s seven-month-old son, Noah, will portray Christ as a baby, and Allen’s 13-year-old son, Jacob, will portray Christ as a child.

“It’s cool to me, just because my dad has gotten to play Christ and he is again this year,” Jacob said.

In yet another first associated with this year’s pageant, a special, limited-time exhibit at the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center will feature nine sculptural masterworks by Angela Johnson depicting the biblical miracles of Jesus Christ. Titled “The Healing Power of Jesus Christ,” the exhibit is described as stunningly depicting those moments when “hope, repentance and faith are met with tender love and divine power sufficient to cleanse any sin or heal the bruised, the brokenhearted or suffering soul.”

The special display, as well as the other permanent exhibits, will be open March 17 to April 16 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Visitors’ Center, located at 525 E. Main St. in Mesa.

The 65-minute pageant, also free of charge, is held on the north lawn of the Visitors’ Center. The pageant begins Tues., March 27, with a public-invited dress rehearsal, performed in English at 7 p.m., and Spanish at 8:30.

Following the dress rehearsal, English performances will be Wed., March 28; Thurs., March 29; and Tues. through Sat., April 3 through 7; and Spanish performances will be Fri., March 30, and Sat., March 31. All performances begin promptly at 8 p.m. The pageant will be translated in American Sign Language March 28 through 31 only.

Parking is free and is available on surrounding streets, in the unpaved lot west of Pioneer Park and behind Dairy Queen on Main Street.

Metal chairs and bleacher seating is strictly first-come, first-served; or audience members may bring blankets and lawn chairs to sit on any available grass space.

Although no general reserved seating is available, on March 28 through 31, seats may be reserved on the day of the performance only, on a limited basis.

For additional information, visit www.easterpageant.org, or call 480/964-7164.