Those who visit Historic Kirtland this summer during “pageant season” (June 30 – July 24) are in for a special treat. For the second year running, a talented cast and crew will perform the specially-commissioned musical theater production, “This is Kirtland!”
What is the show about? “We look in-depth at a few of the experiences of early church members in the Kirtland area,” says director Polly K. Dunn. “The stories we tell are poignant, inspiring, positive. Most of all, we have fun!” The opening scene follows the conversions of local members and the gathering of converts from other regions. Young Kirtland-area resident Mary Elizabeth Rollins searches earnestly for a copy of the Book of Mormon.
The School of the Prophets and Eliza Snow’s schools for young ladies and children meet onstage, with sometimes comic results. Parley Pratt experiences several miraculous reversals of fortune within a short time that enable him to serve a mission. He and other men leave to preach the gospel, and the women left behind care for their families together.
Joseph Smith sings a love song to his wife Emma, the lyrics for which were taken from his letters to her. The compassion and generosity of early Saints reveals itself through acts of kindness and sacrifice. Newel and Elizabeth Whitney host a feast for the poor that ends in a rousing dance number. The show culminates in the building and dedication of the Kirtland temple by hard-working local members.
These stories are woven together by narrator Christopher Crary, a character based on a man by that name who wrote firsthand observations of those who settled the area. “Crary was never a member of the LDS church,” explains script writer Sunny Morton. “He lived here before the church came and stayed long after it left. He’s a natural storyteller, and he offers a slightly detached but often sympathetic perspective.”
The hour-long production was written last year by a team that pooled years of professional experience in musical performance and theater, choreography, historical research, writing, costuming, set design, and construction. Polly Dunn brought over 20 years of professional theater experience and training to This is Kirtland! Her creative vision of the show guided composer Sheri McMurtrey, who penned the original score, and writer and researcher Sunny McClellan Morton, who led a team of writers in bringing to life these stories of early Kirtland saints. About 3000 people attended last year’s show.
An experienced pit orchestra provides live music again this year under the leadership of music director Nick Komen. He works closely with returning pianist and music educator Nancy Tuttle, who offers a unique perspective on the production. Nancy had been a member of the church for only a month when she joined the orchestra last year. When asked how it affected her testimony to dive right into Church history this way, she responds with great feeling, describing a scene when Joseph Smith sings the passage from the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants proclaiming that the Savior lives. “At first, Joseph is singing alone. Then Sidney Rigdon steps into the light and adds his voice to Joseph’s. By the end of the song you have this phalanx of people all singing their testimonies ‘that He lives!’ That is really what the Church is about, why they did what they did in Kirtland and why we still do everything we do today—because the Savior lives!”
This year’s production runs on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays between June 30 – July 23. Curtain time is 7:30 pm. Performances are held at the beautiful Kirtland stake center, a short distance up the street from Historic Kirtland on State Route 306. Admission is free and there is ample parking. Overnight accommodations and restaurants are available within a mile. Reservations are requested for groups of 20 or more; several youth conferences and tour groups have already reserved seats for this year. For reservations, directions, or more information, please call Historic Kirtland at 440-256-9805.