SALT LAKE CITY — Visitors to Nauvoo in July and early August will enjoy a new pageant that re-enacts the lives of Mormon settlers in the 1840s, who struggled to build a city and find peace on the swampy banks of the Mississippi in western Illinois.

In the 200th year since the birth of Nauvoo’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., the historic city will resound with the music, dance and life stories of its pioneering settlers.

This new pageant, produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shows people coming together, even in the most challenging circumstances, to build a community, a story that in many ways represents an American ideal.

“Coming to Nauvoo and attending the pageant is an opportunity to explore an exciting period of American history and to relive a way of life that many still feel nostalgic about,” says pageant director David Warner.

“In the pageant, the past — with its strong values of faith, family and community — really does come alive. There’s music and dance and wonderful entertainment, but, best of all, there are inspirational stories of real people who faced life’s challenges with great optimism, industry and faith,” adds Warner.

Rehearsals for the pageant are currently underway in Salt Lake City. Performances will begin in Nauvoo on Friday, 8 July, and run through Friday, 5 August. The show will be staged every evening except Sunday and Monday.

The cast includes a core of experienced actors who portray well-known early citizens of Nauvoo, including Joseph and Emma Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor and Brigham Young. One hundred and fifty ensemble roles will be performed each week by a rotating group of 600 volunteers, most of them Latter-day Saint families who are donating their time and paying their own living and travel expenses.

The pageant’s script was prepared under the direction of Church leaders by a committee of seven volunteer writers. Seven composers collaborated on the score, which includes original music and original orchestrations of familiar hymns designed to capture the spirit of 19th-century life. Speaking parts will be presented live, supported by a prerecorded soundtrack of the score.

Performances will be staged in an area southwest of the reconstructed Nauvoo Temple, in a field down from the temple bluff and just south of what’s known as the West Grove, a copse of trees where original settlers often gathered to hear Joseph Smith and other Church leaders teach of God’s love for His children. The story of how Nauvoo’s early citizens worked together to build the original temple is a central element of the pageant.

The pageant is part of the Church’s yearlong commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith. Life magazine recently named Joseph Smith in its list of 100 most influential Americans. An academic conference held last month at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., examined Joseph Smith’s impact on U.S. and world religious history.

Joseph Smith’s role as the planner and builder of Nauvoo is portrayed in this new pageant. Of Joseph’s leadership, director David Warner observes, “Joseph Smith was a wonderful, charismatic and deeply principled leader. He embraced people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Most importantly, he was a prophet of God who taught that by living the gospel of Jesus Christ, people really can come together in harmony and peace.”

Nauvoo-Era Activities

Throughout the day prior to each evening’s performance, cast members will participate in pre-show activities designed to take visitors back in time to the 19th-century heyday of Nauvoo, a city that once rivaled Chicago in size and prosperity.

In pre-show activities, visitors will hear soapbox orations typical of the Nauvoo period. Visitors will be able to stop and put a stitch in a quilt or take a turn dancing a reel. 

Children and adults alike might participate in three-legged races, stick-pulling or other contests of skill and strength. Visitors could participate in a log-saw, then decide to rest on the lawn and listen to the Nauvoo Band. With everything from bagpipers to crafts to games such as horseshoes, marbles or hoops, there will be something for everyone.

As with all activities in Nauvoo, admission to the pageant will be free of charge. While some events in Nauvoo are ticketed, tickets are not required to attend the pageant.