OPINION — Did God really speak to a man? And if so, being just a man, could he lead a people through a religious restoration that brought them to hardships, including great poverty and violence against them? The cast and crew of the Brigham’s Playhouse original production “Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man” have set out to give their answers to these difficult questions and more.
On the surface, the production may seem as if it is only religious in nature, appealing primarily to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who revere Joseph Smith as a prophet of God and a martyr for his faith. But “Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man” has something to offer a wider audience who may be curious about the adventurous, fervent and sometimes darker life of the Mormon prophet.
This year marks the second year for the original musical at Brigham’s Playhouse, which is offered as a free gift to the community. The script was written by Jamie Young, co-founder of Brigham’s Playhouse, and the music and lyrics were written by Taylor Williams.
The pair did extensive research into the life of Smith, said T.J. Dick, who plays the titular in the musical. This included consulting several scholarly publications such as the “Joseph Smith Papers” to accurately reflect his life.
Many of the lyrics are quotes from letters written by Smith himself, Dick said.
“Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man” tells the story of Smith from the time he was 14 – when he claimed to have seen his first vision of God and Jesus Christ – until he was killed in Carthage jail at the age of 38.
In between, the cast and crew deftly depict Smith as both a man with fallacies and weaknesses and a man who believed he was led by God to restore Jesus Christ’s true gospel on the earth.
The show doesn’t shy away from some of the more controversial parts of Smith’s life, including being accused of adultery, the manner in which he translated the records written on gold plates that became the “Book of Mormon,” his decision to destroy a printing press in Nauvoo, Illinois, and his use of a gun in Carthage jail, where he and his brother Hyrum Smith were killed.
The production does run a little long — about three hours with a 15-minute intermission included — but the talented and vibrant cast manages to keep their energy levels high throughout. For me, the second half of the show was stronger than the first and offered the biggest emotional moments.
Some highlights of the cast were the strong male leads, particularly Beau Brewster as Oliver Cowdery, Joshua Ruesch as young Joseph Smith, Jared Davis as Hyrum Smith and Kelly Olsen as the prison guard.
The stellar male cast is led by Dick, who made his theater debut in this production but brings his wealth of musical education and talent to the performance. Dick brought an earnestness to the character of Joseph Smith that really portrayed how the man who would be prophet struggled with his duality as an imperfect man but one who loved God and wanted to do what he thought was right.
At its core, I felt like “Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man” was a beautiful love story that depicted Joseph’s love for his God, the people he led, his family and his wife Emma Hale Smith.
Emma was played by Paige Allred, a seasoned stage performer who has been seen in Tuacahn’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and many other shows.
The scenes between Emma Smith and Joseph Smith are some of the most powerful and emotional, as you see their relationship build from budding romance to dedicated husband and wife who together go through what many might describe as hell on earth. Allred gives a strong depth to her performance, and for me, as a woman, I related to Emma Smith and could truly empathize with the emotions she must have felt watching her husband be beaten, jailed and eventually killed for his beliefs.
For members of the LDS church, the production can be a very religious and touching experience. For those who may just be curious about the religious leader who founded Mormonism, the show provides a fairly accurate history – minus a few dramatic liberties – and offers a talented cast that does not fail to entertain.
“Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man” is free to the public and has limited engagements Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. Reservations are required to receive a free ticket. For reservations, call the box office at 435-251-8000 or arrive early on the night you wish to view the play and ask if there are seats available.
Brigham’s Playhouse is a nonprofit theater, so donations are greatly appreciated and help the playhouse continue to offer quality entertainment to the community. Concessions – including delicious ice cream, fresh baked cookies, candy, bottled soda and water – are available for purchase before each show and during intermission.
For more information about Brigham’s Playhouse, including their current and upcoming season offerings, visit their website.
- What: “Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man”
- When: Limited engagements Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.
- Where: Brigham’s Playhouse, 25 N. 300 West, Washington City
- Tickets: Free (donations appreciated) | To reserve a ticket, call 435-251-8000 Tuesday-Saturday, 2-7 p.m., or arrive early on the night of the show
- Resources: Facebook | Website
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