The Gold statue at the top of the Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, NY, reminds us that this is where Joseph Smith said the angel Nephi (..uh... I mean Moroni*) led him to the golden plates which he translated into Book of Mormon by the power of God. The history of the HIll Cumorah Pageant goes back to 1935; five years after the Church purchased the hill. The current title, America's Witness for Christ, was first used in 1937. The visitor center at "the hill" has been updated a few times reflecting the very professional presentation which is now employed.
There has been a pageant at the hill almost every summer since 1937. Missionaries originally presented short plays as a part of the annual "Cumorah Conference" of the Eastern States Mission, which included several eastern states and was convened annually to coincide with the July 24th Pioneer Day celebration marking the day when Brigham Young first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. That tradition was begun in 1917 when a group of Missionaries traveled to the Joseph Smith Farm to celebrate Pioneer Day. Part of that celebration included the acting out of some scenes from the Book of Mormon and Church history. Theatre has always been a big part of the Utah LDS culture.
Over the next seventeen years the Cumorah Conference expanded to a three or four day event, including the missionaries to both the Eastern States and Canada.
There have been many changes and quite a list of talented directors and staff that have constructed elaborate staging and sound systems on the hill. In the late 1960s there were state of the art horn speakers on the hill that were 9' feet deep and 9'X9' wide at the mouth. Those speakers produced enough sound to make the pageant heard up to a mile away fairly distinctly. During that time the church bused in students from Brigham Young University to join the missionaries serving in the Cumorah Mission which included New York state. As the Church has acquired a larger membership here in the east, they now draw largely from eastern members for the cast.
The pageant has been a public relations tool for the Church bringing commerce to the area and is credited with garnering positive attitudes from local residents. The pageant has also been an effective missionary tool as the cast members meander among pageant attendees greeting, answering questions and encouraging them to fill out referral cards to receive missionaries in their home. What an opportunity for Christians who happen to be in the area to share Jesus with pageant visitors and LDS cast members.
* In the original manuscript of the History of the Church, it states that the name of the angel who showed Joseph the golden plates was "Nephi". Later, after the death of Joseph, the name was changed to "Moroni".