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Manti • Oh, that he were an angel.
Ever since he was 8 years old when he saw a white-robed actor ascend to the top of the Manti LDS Temple in the Mormon Miracle Pageant's jaw-dropping scene an awestruck John Pipes knew what he wanted:
To be Angel Moroni.
And this week, the 24-year-old Manti native earned his wings, so to speak.
With his blond hair sprayed white and wearing a white-and-gold robe, Pipes climbed the temple's steep west tower stairs during a dress rehearsal. Then, at the appointed time, with a full moon and spotlights shining on him, he faced east, 169 feet above the ground and almost 210 feet above the valley floor.
There, tethered to a pole on a 10-foot-wide platform and surrounded by a 2-foot-high railing, he hoisted a long trumpet to his lips and struck the pose so familiar to Mormons throughout the world.
It's "wonderful," Pipes said, like "floating in the sky."
"For two weeks out of the year," pageant President Doug Barton said, "we get to have an Angel Moroni on the temple." (Manti's largest edifice, unlike many LDS temples, doesn't have a permanent gold-leaf statue of the faith's signature icon.)
In fact, the free performances in Manti will have two Angel Moronis. Pipes and Orem resident Eli Powell, 32, will take turns playing the role during the pageant's 44th-annual run, which begins Thursday.
The show tells the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from its beginnings in New York to the settlement of Utah. Interspersed among vignettes of church history are scenes from the faith's unique scripture, The Book of Mormon, including a depiction of Jesus Christ visiting ancient America.
A cast of more than 900 men, women and children act as prophets, pioneers, warriors and more on the south side of the Manti Temple grounds. In trailers and a building east of the temple, cast members are hustled through makeup and costuming before a pre-show devotional service in which last-minute instructions go out.
Seats for 15,000 fill up on the temple grounds, Barton said, and many viewers simply throw down a blanket and sit on the lawn.
The spectacle's big moment focuses on Angel Moroni, who Mormons believe was the last contributor to The Book of Mormon and later appeared to church founder Joseph Smith.
During the scene, the narration refers to the statue atop the Salt Lake City LDS Temple and how it symbolizes a biblical prophecy that an angel would fly forth to proclaim the gospel.
"That's the cool part," said Sheron Thurston, a West Valley City woman who portrays a wicked high priestess in the show. "The spirit is so strong when he comes out."
"It's kind of a pinnacle part," said Barton's son, Mike, who played the role in 1997.
It's also a part that wasn't even in the first few pageants, Doug Barton noted. At that time, the pageant took place at the nearby Sanpete County Fairgrounds before moving to the temple grounds and adding the angel scene in the early 1970s.
The coveted role can't go to just anybody. The actor must be at least 17 years old, 6 feet tall and deemed worthy to enter an LDS temple.
"We want them to look larger than life," Barton said.
And they certainly can't be afraid of heights.
Temple engineer Dean Harmer accompanies the actor through the temple to the roof on the east side. They cross a catwalk to the west tower, where they climb the stairs to the top. There about as high above the valley floor as the tallest spire on the Salt Lake Temple Harmer harnesses the actor to a pole and gives him his cue.
Powell fell in love with the part when he, like Pipes, saw it as an 8-year-old.
"It struck me as awesome," Powell said. "It's definitely one of the spots that catches people's attention."
Powell, who had performed in previous pageants as a pioneer, landed the part of the angel this year on his first try.
Pipes is following in the footsteps of an older brother, who had the role last year. He said his brother would text him while he was waiting for his cue, bragging about the view.
For the younger Pipes, who has played other parts in the pageant and worked on the technical crew, portraying Angel Moroni this year provides a "great opportunity" to share his beliefs in a high form of missionary service.
Indeed, the highest in the show.
The Mormon Miracle Pageant runs from June 16-18 and June 21-25. Gates to the audience area open at 6 p.m. The free show starts at 9:30 p.m.
Info • mormonmiracle.org
To see a 360 view of the Manti Temple, visit > http://bit.ly/kJGtyj