Every year leading up to Easter, on a temporary, five-story, outdoor stage erected near downtown Mesa, the story of the life and mission of Jesus Christ, taken from the Bible, is portrayed in live performance, music and dance.
The Mesa Easter Pageant, titled “Jesus the Christ,” is a more-than 75-year-old tradition – an event that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints label their “gift” to the community and region.
Over the years, the effort has grown from its early beginnings – it began as a sunrise choir concert – to a massive production that includes nearly 900 volunteer cast and crew, and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors.
According to Steve West, the pageant’s president, the message and intent have remained the same, although the pageant has evolved over time.
“It is presented out of our love for the Savior and a desire to share that with others,” West said. “We want others to know that we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, worship the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Most of all, he said, “the pageant is intended to help people of any faith to gain a better understanding of Jesus Christ, to know him better and to feel his love.”
Pageant director Jenee Wright Prince said that this year the performance will feature a cast of 475, women and children, and a volunteer staff of 400 more who work behind the scenes to make the pageant a reality.
“It’s a big production and nothing works without every piece — everyone’s involvement is just as important as anyone else’s to make this the wonderful community Easter tradition it has become,” Prince said.
The 65-minute pageant unfolds to present more than 30 scenes that depict Christ’s birth, his miracles and parables, and, ultimately, his trial before Pilate, the Last Supper, his crucifixion and resurrection. While several cast members are new each year, others have made it a family tradition to participate.
Participating for the first time are friends, Isaac Contador, 18, Aaron Moffitt, 18, and Devon Turley, 17 – all students at Mesa High School. Contador said he decided to audition with his friends because he wanted his “testimony of the Savior to grow. I wanted to get closer to God.”
The three were cast as angels and will appear as members of the mob scene as well.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be fun,” Moffitt said.
Jennifer Anderson, of Mesa, says she and her husband and two children are in the pageant cast for the fourth year.
“I love the message it shares,” she said. “I love the time together as a family.”
Joe Tenney, of Gilbert, is a 15-year pageant veteran. He appeared as the narrator for 13 years and, for the last two, had served as assistant director. Tenney’s wife, Debbie, their three daughters and two sons, also have participated in the pageant over the years.
“It has definitely worked its way into the fabric of the lives of our family,” he said. “It’s a wonderful privilege to be a part of it.”
Prince said this sentiment is shared by the entire cast.
“It is a tremendous and humbling honor for all of us who participate in the pageant, in even the smallest way, to present a portion of the life and mission of the Savior. The power of his life and the beauty of his teachings uplift and edify everyone — staff, cast, and audience.”
The pageant is performed free of charge on the north lawn of the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center, 525 E. Main St., beginning March 19, with a public-invited dress rehearsal, in English at 7 and Spanish at 8:30 p.m. On subsequent nights, performances begin at 8 p.m. and will be presented in English on March 20 through 21 and 26 through 30 and in Spanish March 22 and 23. The pageant will be presented in ASL on March 20 through 23.
Metal chairs are available, strictly on a first-come, first-served basis, and attendees may bring blankets or chairs to sit on around the perimeter. Free parking is available on adjacent streets, with handicap parking and tour bus parking in the lot east of the Visitors’ Center.
For additional information, visit easterpageant.org or call (480) 964-7164.
What: “Jesus the Christ” Mesa Easter Pageant
When: Performances begin at 8 p.m. March 20 and 21 and March 26-30. Spanish performances are March 22 and 23. The pageant will be presented in ASL March 20-23.
Where: North lawn of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center, 525 E. Main St.
Information: (480) 964-7164 or easterpageant.org