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Authors present 80-year history of Mesa Easter Pageant

A photo from the 1967 Mesa Temple Easter Sunrise Service in downtown Mesa. (Photo: Nyle Leatham; provided by Jill Adair)
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

As excitement mounts for the return of the annual Mesa Easter Pageant in March, inspiring stories of those who have been involved, along with the pageant’s beginnings and 80-year evolution, will be the focus of a presentation by the co-authors of a recently published historical book.

The presentation is at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 23, at the Mesa Temple Visitor’s Center, 455 E. Main St. It is free and open to the public.

The pageant, “Jesus the Christ,” starts Wednesday, March 29, and runs through Saturday, April 1; and Tuesday, April 4, through Saturday, April 8. The show begins at 8 p.m. each night.

The book, “The Mesa Easter Pageant: 80 Years of Sharing the Story of Jesus the Christ.”

“The way in which this production started — then grew tremendously over the years — is an amazing example of testimony-driven dedication by countless volunteers,” said Jill Bishop Adair, co-author of “The Mesa Easter Pageant: 80 Years of Sharing the Story of Jesus the Christ.”

“The number of people involved at every level, the effort, and the sheer volume of volunteer hours are incalculable. And their motivation has not been by assignment but because of their love for their Savior and a desire to share His message with their friends and neighbors.”

The musical dramatization, “Jesus the Christ,” is recognized as the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world, drawing annually more than 100,000 people in the two weeks before Easter to the north lawn of the Mesa Arizona Temple, 101 S. LeSueur in downtown Mesa.

This free, 70-minute outdoor presentation highlights the powerful and poignant moments of the life of Jesus Christ – from His birth to His glorious resurrection – as found in the New Testament, and is presented as a family-friendly gift to the community in celebration of Easter.

This year, more than 400 costumed cast members present “the greatest story ever told” using music, dance, drama, live animals and special effects, all performed on a massive four-story-high stage. A production staff of 400 volunteers work behind the scenes to present this annual event.

Last year’s cast featured over 400 costumed actors on a four-story stage. (Photo: Richard Webb)

But it hasn’t always been a production of this magnitude.

“Many are gone now that remember Arizona in 1938 — when the population was just under half a million and those living in Mesa numbered only a few thousand,” said Ms. Adair.

She explained: “That year a group of young people (ages 17-24) from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a statewide gathering for peers in Mesa and hosted — along with a weekend of fun festivities — the culminating event, which was an Easter Sunrise Service held on the temple grounds in Mesa.”

“The following year, 1939, the Easter Sunrise Service would be repeated, but, this time, it was a standalone event. From there, the sharing of the Easter story on the temple grounds would become an annual family and community event. For decades, the service was timed to begin so at the precise moment when Christ’s resurrection from the tomb was narrated and celebrated in song, the sunrise broke over the Superstition Mountains to the east, illuminating that side of the temple grounds.”

A couple enjoy the Easter presentation from afar during the late-1960s. (Photo provided by Jill Adair)

Co-author Cecily Markland Condie said, “It became a beloved tradition in Arizona, as people came from all over to attend. We felt it was important to document its progression over the decades and remember those whose devotion to telling the Easter story was motivation enough to give much of their time and talents to presenting it year after year.”

“These men and women who were involved in the foundational efforts of this pageant devised makeshift staging, costuming and production elements to make the presentation the best they could, using the talent and resources available to them at the time.”

“It was a distinct privilege to learn more about the story behind the story of the Mesa Easter Pageant as we wrote the history,” she added, “and to see not only the many thousands of volunteer hours and resources that have gone into this Easter celebration over the years, but, also, to witness how those efforts have touched lives and hearts and have helped so many to know more about Jesus Christ and to feel His peace and love.”

The Easter Sunrise Service continued for nearly 30 years as a choral presentation, featuring sacred music that was linked with a brief narration focusing on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More dramatical elements were added to the storytelling in 1967 with a stage and costumed actors.

In 1977, the production moved from a sunrise service to several evening performances prior to Easter.

“That year sunrise gave way to sunset. A single Sabbath morning expanded to two nights prior to Easter. Limited staging became scenes spread out across multiple stages and grassy areas. A live chorus and a handful of speakers were replaced by a prerecorded soundtrack of music and narration. A small cast of actors grew to hundreds. Attendance increased to more than 20,000. The modern pageant was born. And pageant, by one definition, means an outdoor performance of a historical scene,” said Ms. Adair, who now is communications director for Mesa Temple Events.

Ms. Condie said she and Ms. Adair — who are both local journalists — spent 3 ½ years researching, gathering details, interviewing 50+ principals, and writing and editing the book. They will share some historical highlights, photos and stories at the presentation on March 23.

“Everyone who is interested in local history and, in particular, the history and stories of the Mesa Easter Pageant is welcome to come to our free presentation,” she said. “And we invite all to come back a few days later and see for themselves what a marvelous and moving production the pageant has grown into.”

For more information on the history of the pageant or to order a book online, go to, or follow Mesa Easter Pageant Book on Facebook.

For more information on the Mesa Easter Pageant this year, go to

A photo from the first Easter Sunrise Service hosted by young people of the Mesa area in 1938. The celebration is an annual event and a beloved community tradition for more than eight decades. (Photo: Max Hunt; provided by Jill Adair)
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