Annual production involves 750 volunteers working in the cradle of their faith

MANCHESTER — The annual Hill Cumorah Pageant — a free performance with hundreds of performers, a massive seven-level stage and  outdoor special effects — is back for its 80th year of production.

The first Hill Cumorah Pageant featured a handful of performers in rented costumes using car headlights as spotlights. A lot has changed as the pageant, now a Western New York tradition, celebrates its 80th birthday, with effects including explosions, earthquakes and balls of fire.

“I hear from so many people who’ve said they’ve always wanted to go but never have,” said Neil Pitts, pageant president. “It’s a wonderful family experience. We’d like people to come and experience the grandeur of the performance and have special feelings their hearts as they watch these scenes from the Bible and Book of Mormon. We want people to walk away with a sense that this was an awesome experience.”

The annual pageant kicks off its week of performances Friday, July 14 at dusk. The pageant, which is free and family-friendly, involves more than 750 volunteers cast into 1,200 roles within hours of arriving. After just one week of rigorous rehearsals, the show opens. Volunteers in the performance and on staff come to Western New York at their own expense from around the world. They do not come to the region just to practice their sword fighting skills and learn dances, or to wear costumes and wigs in the humid New York summer; for them, this is a time of spiritual renewal in the cradle of their faith, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its origins. In addition to rehearsals, the cast also squeezes in more than 1,800 hours of volunteer service in Wayne, Ontario and Monroe counties.

Presented annually by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1937, the pageant is a theatrical representation of scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Performances by the all-volunteer cast are July 14-15 and 18-22 and begin nightly at 9 p.m. There is seating for over 7,000 guests. Visitors this year will also be able to don pageant costumes for photo booth pictures. Food is provided on-site by local service groups, with food tents open at 5 p.m.

Hill Cumorah is located on Route 21 in Manchester, just south of the Palmyra border and 2 miles north of the Thruway's Exit 43. Parking and admission are free. Headsets are provided for Spanish translation, and American Sign Language interpretation is provided.

For more information about the Hill Cumorah Pageant, call 315-597-5851, go to www.hillcumorah.org or view the "Hill Cumorah Pageant" Facebook page.