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‘City of Joseph’ ready to roll in Nauvoo

LDS pageant cuts back on cast and crew, boosts props

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NAUVOO, Ill. — Officials hope that by making this year's "City of Joseph" pageant a little smaller, they'll make it better.

More than 600 people were in the cast and crew of last year's pageant, but the show's producer, Chris Frogley, said there will be just 453 when this year's show opens tonight.

"We felt we had overstepped our maximum," he said. With construction of the Nauvoo Temple taking place just up the hill from where the pageant is staged, Frogley said interest in "City of Joseph" is heightened. "We've never had as many requests for participation as we've had this year," he said.

Frogley said there were easily 2,000 people wanting to be a part of the production, which is the second largest outdoor musical staged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A priority system was established giving Midwest residents first crack at parts. Complete families with fathers, mothers and children all participating also had a higher priority.

Frogley said he also wanted veterans of previous performances to make up about two-thirds of the cast. The remaining third will be newcomers. "We'd like to keep turning it so we have new people experiencing it for the first time," he said.

Most are from about a 200-mile radius of Nauvoo, he said. The others come from California, Florida, Texas, Utah and other places around the world.

While there are fewer people on the stage this year, there will be more props.

Property master Cheryl Jones of Saginaw, Mich., and her crew have been working on dozens of smaller set pieces, Frogley said.

Many of them are store fronts that will make their appearance during the musical number "How Do You Build A City?" This year, Frogley said, there will be far more, "so it feels like a real town instead of just a few doorways here and there."

There will also be 100 new costumes this year.

Last year's pageant featured an all-new stereophonic soundtrack. This year's soundtrack is largely the same, Frogley said, but some voices have been redubbed.

And while the LDS prophet Joseph Smith has always been kept "prophetly" in past performances, he said, this year's version calls for him to be more of the robust individual history indicates him to have been.

"Joseph was kind of happy-go-lucky, fun loving. He liked to wrestle," he said. "This year, he's actually running and getting into a few things in some of the dance numbers."

Frogley, a Davenport, Iowa, dentist who is a descendant of the prophet's brother, Hyrum Smith, played the lead role for several years before taking the helm as the show's producer.

A different actor — Jason Woodland of Pocatello, Idaho — was scheduled to play the part this year, but Frogley said problems, which kept Woodland at home, developed about two weeks before rehearsals were to begin. So for the eighth year, Frogley himself will play the part.

It won't be that difficult to be both producer and be the lead, he said, because he and director Lynn Bodily of Chicago work well together. "He pulls this thing together like nobody else can," Frogley said.

The pageant's technical crew, most of the cast and much of the equipment arrived in Nauvoo last week.

Practices began Saturday, and the schedule has been a grueling non-stop affair that begins at 7 a.m. and doesn't end until long past dark.

On Wednesday, the day's schedule included one run-through rehearsal at 5 p.m. and another at 7 p.m., with a costumed practice set to begin just before 9 p.m.

The second week, Frogley said, the schedule isn't as tough.

There is time off during the day when participants can sit in on seminars about everything from church history to aromatherapy.

Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday with two days off before taking the stage again next Tuesday through Saturday.

Shows begin each night at 8:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Attendance at the Nauvoo musical is second only to the "Hill Cumorah" pageant in Palmyra, N.Y.

"City of Joseph" was first produced in its present form in 1976. It traces the development of Nauvoo from the 1839 arrival of the first LDS settlers to its peak in 1846 as one of the 10 largest cities in the United States.