The spectacle of outdoor theatre with a cast of hundreds, pyrotechnics, and special effects is hard to reimagine on an indoor stage. City of Joseph: A Historical Musical of Nauvoo was an immense production performed every summer from 1976 to 2004, with its final performances in the shadow of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, and the scaled-down version I attended at BYU's Pardoe Theatre was certainly missing the grandeur of the original. This version did, however, convey a more intimate shared experience with the audience while retaining its spirit of devotion to the LDS Church and Joseph Smith.
A labor of love by the show's producer R. Don Oscarson, who also wrote the script for the 1967 film Last Day at Carthage, the pageant was initially conceived and produced by a group of Church members for a local Illinois audience. It grew to be a major event attended by thousands every year. This prompted the involvement of the Church, who saw in the production an opportunity to reach nonmembers to teach them about the faith and to build the testimony of those participating, similar to that which occurred with the pageants at the Hill Cumorah and Manti, Utah. Now that the Church has replaced the pageant at Nauvoo with one written specifically for its purposes, City of Joseph has been transformed into a stage play for which there is a different end in mind. Still seeking to inspire, the play feeds into the assumed nostalgia of the audience, stirring them to recall real memories of time spent at Nauvoo (perhaps as spectators or participants of the pageant) or to create imagined memories to accompany and complement those brought to life by the characters on stage.