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Mesa Easter Pageant gives community opportunity to ‘rejoice together’

MESA, Ariz.

More than 80,000 audience members are expected to see the Mesa Easter Pageant this year.

Some coming to the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple see the production for the first time and others are continuing a beloved family tradition in the two weeks leading up to Easter.

“It’s truly a unique experience motivated by love and friendship,” Pageant President Stephen L. West said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to come and rejoice together.”

On a massive, two-story stage, 475 costumed cast members depict scenes from “Jesus the Christ,” including Old Testament prophets prophesying of Jesus’ foreordained mission, the night of His sacred birth, His teachings and miracles, Atonement for all mankind, Crucifixion and glorious Resurrection.

“Our purpose is to bring others closer to the Savior,” said Jenee Prince, the pageant’s director. “We want others to get to know Him, to feel His love and to feel more hope and peace.”

The spirit of the Easter message is strong on the north lawn of the temple in downtown Mesa and those who participate on stage and behind the scenes feel it a special privilege to add their personal testimonies to this witness of truth.

Laura Laparra, of the Mesa Boulder Creek Stake, along with her husband, Gilberto Laparra, portrayed the pageant’s narrators for the first time during the Spanish performance April 8. They are also in the cast for the eight English performances.

Three years ago Sister Laparra was critically injured by a car as she and her husband were crossing a street near the Gilbert Arizona Temple. They were going to serve as tour guides for the open house. She spent the next two weeks in a coma while her family was cautioned several times that she might not survive.

“I had so many broken things,” the mother-of-four recalls.

She was already cast in the Mesa Easter Pageant in 2014, as she had been for nearly a decade before that, when the accident occurred. She missed that year and the next as she recovered.

She returned last year and is grateful to be a part of this Spirit-filled production again this year.

“One of my favorite scenes is when Jesus raises the boy from the dead,” Sister Laparra said. “I’m not close to the focus of the scene on stage, but I push my way forward in the crowd so I can see it.”

She says that seeing the scenes depicting Christ’s miracles reminds her of those she experienced in her own recovery.

“There were so many miracles every single day,” she said. “After a month I was home.”

However, she lost much of her singing voice and last year she struggled to raise her voice during the finale when all the cast members join together to sing, “I Know He Lives.”

This time her experience portraying a narrator was different.

Speaking to a soundtrack and in a spotlight, she has the last line of the pageant, inviting all to partake of the truthfulness of the beautiful Easter message.

“I realized I don’t need to struggle to raise my voice to sing the words,” she said. “I can share of my testimony and help others to feel the Spirit.”

Stage managers Steve and Liz Porter said they have a unique perspective backstage in being able to see cast members preparing themselves spiritually each night to share their testimonies through their roles in the pageant.

“One of the things we love to see are the smaller groups huddled together in prayer before they go on,” Sister Porter said.

“This truly is a labor of love,” Brother Porter said.

The pageant today — which features music, drama, dance and authentic costumes to tell the biblical story of Jesus Christ — is in sharp contrast to its humble beginnings.

In its earliest days, Easter morning was celebrated with a sunrise service featuring a choir and narration highlighting the life of Christ. This later expanded to include a series of still tableaus in which costumed cast members posed as living statues while a narrator read the story of Christ’s life.

Over the years a pageant script was written, a stage was built and the event grew to what is now believed to be the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world.

The pageant takes place annually during the two weeks before Easter. For more information, visit mesaeasterpageant.com.