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LDS plan Oly extravaganza

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Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want to add their own kind of light to the Olympic flame that will burn in Utah come February.

"Light of the World, A Celebration of Life" has been designed to "cross cultural boundaries, ethnic distinctions and language barriers," according to a press release. Church leaders have hinted for months that plans were under way for a major production to be staged in the Conference Center during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Wednesday, reporters had a taste of the scope of the church's Olympic production, which will include a cast of more than 1,500 participants, including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square and performing groups from church-owned Brigham Young University.

Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the church's Council of the Twelve, said the production is particularly timely in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., last week.

Of the "universal light within each individual that inspires greatness," Elder Hales said heroic and compassionate acts by police, firefighters and ordinary Americans "cause us to pause and reflect on the sanctity of life. It is this light which reflects the glory of God and the spirit of mankind that we wish to celebrate with the world."

Theater, music, lighting and sound techniques engineered by both volunteer musicians and paid professionals will be featured during the 10 scheduled performances.

Set design includes a 130-foot dome that spans the entire length of the Conference Center auditorium and serves as the stage.

Performers will move between the stage and the audience and over the dome, which allows for a representation of "both the Earth and the spirit of man in their full magnitude and grandeur," according to co-director Randy Boothe.

Producers will project larger-than-life images — some of them larger than IMAX films — onto various surfaces of the auditorium. Drama will be enhanced by actors set to "fly" some 70 feet from the top of the grid to the Conference Center floor, furthering the feel of movement from Earth to heaven.

"At the height of this piece, the universe comes into full motion," according to children's director Pat Debenham. "Figures will be flying and moving through the air in a manner that allows not only the Earth to become alive, but the space above it — the world above it — comes to life as well. All of a sudden, Earth and sky come together."

Light itself is "one of the key elements" of the show, particularly "the light of Jesus Christ reaching down across the world. It is the same light that touches everyone, that lights up our souls and enhances the inner light that is already there," according to lighting director John Featherstone.

Featherstone will incorporate more than 5,000 lights into the production. While most are those already present in the Conference Center, an additional 400 motorized lights will be used, he said.

So intense is the focus on lighting that each moment of the show will take an hour for lighting designers to program into a computer system, Featherstone said. "It's going to be a light that is very alive, very kinetic, very direct and uplifting in a way that it's going to reach out and touch the various members of the cast who represent the stories we're trying to tell."

Saying there is "no greater honor" than to represent "the light of the transcendent," Featherstone believes the show is "going to be every bit the size that one would see at the kind of spectaculars of the Academy Awards and the Grammys."

Tickets will be available beginning Oct. 9 via the Internet at www.events.lds.org or by mail. Mail orders must include an order form available in the LDS Church News or from ward representatives.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com