Ten thousand folding chairs fill the north lawn of the Mesa Arizona Temple grounds today for 10 nights of telling the life of Jesus for what is touted as the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world.
On a mammoth four-story steel stage, a cast of about 400 will present “Jesus the Christ,” a free 75-minute, 32-scene account of Christ’s life through dance, music, drama, special effects and a few animals. The pageant, beginning at 8 p.m., has become the East Valley’s most enduring community event.
Besides the first-come, first-served chairs, people may bring blankets, folding chairs and food.
“I love the pageant. I love the spirit it brings and the many friends that we meet,” said Becki Burgess, who has been involved in the effort for 31 years and serves jointly, with her mother, Jaynie Payne, as the pageant’s administrative director.
It all began in 1928, a year after the dedication of the first temple in Arizona serving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The huge stage, five light towers, powerful sound system and more than 800 authentic costumes contrast sharply with the first pageants. Those were held on Easter mornings with cotton wagons for stages and timed so that the resurrection scene came just as sun broke the horizon.
About 700 applied for the cast this year by furnishing their photos and names, said Payne, a veteran of 37 pageants. As is done each year, the pictures were spread out on tables, and the cast was chosen, based on applicants’ looks and build, with consideration to allow full families to be in the cast. Some families have been able to return year after year.
“Our kids tell us it is the most important thing that we have done with them,” said LeAnn Hord of Mesa. “It has helped them to get to know the Savior.” She and her husband, Patrick, have 10 children ages 11 to 32, and together the family has 168 combined years in the pageants, going back to 1981.
Patrick Hord remembered his first years when plywood and green scaffolding for a stage were precarious, props were primitive, and “it was a lot less professional.”
Howard Karger of Gilbert, who plays the Apostle Matthew, and wife Clarissa are in the pageant for the first time. At 28, he left Conservative Judaism and became a “born-again Christian,” then got active in an Assembly of God church. Married last year, he was baptized a Mormon last October.
“What I am looking forward to the most is, after the show, going out and mingling with the people and just ministering his life to the people,” he said.
What: Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant “Jesus the Christ”
Where: North lawn, Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 525 E. Main St.
When: 8 p.m.; public-invited final dress rehearsal today; Wednesday and Thursday (English); Friday and Saturday (Spanish); April 11-15 (English).
Cost: Free, no donations accepted.
Information: (480) 964-7164 or