On Tuesday night, Justin Osmond will look into the crowd gathered at Trailblazer Stadium and see the smiles, the wonder, and the tears, and it will all have been worth it. But leading up to the event, he was starting to feel a little more kinship with the men and women being honored in the Pioneer Legacy production.
“Our stage is massive,” Osmond said. “It’s a four-stage setup, and I got to be honest, building that stage in 110-degree weather makes you have the utmost appreciation for what those pioneers went through.”
He’s hoping the free Pioneer Day show (gates open at 6:30 p.m.) will leave spectators with the same kind of appreciation — just without the manual labor involved.
The show will feature a cast of over 100 local youth performers as they depict the westward journey of the pioneers and the struggles to settle Southern Utah.
“They sing with fireworks throughout the show. Not just at the end, but throughout,” Osmond said. “The fireworks tell the story. It’s all synchronized to the whole show. It’s all unique and different.”
This is the second straight year the show was been put on in St. George.
The show’s origins
The Pioneer Legacy event began in a slightly surprising place. The story goes that Merrill Osmond, Justin Osmond’s father and lead singer of The Osmonds, was laying on a beach in Hawai’i in the 1980s when the idea came to him to write a musical about the pioneers. He didn’t let that moment of inspiration pass.
According to Justin Osmond, his father pulled out a recorder and within two or three hours had recorded melodies for an hourlong musical. In 1987, that show made its debut in Draper and has since been performed across Utah and in Missouri.
“It all really stemmed from the love that my dad has for the youth,” Justin Osmond said. “It’s a youth production, no adults. They range from 4 to 18 years old, all dressed up like pioneers. We have about 120 young kids who tell the story of these wonderful pioneers and the sacrifice they have been through.”
Changes for St. George version
Merrill Osmond added to the show when the decision was made to bring it to St. George for 2017. He wanted to celebrate the people who helped settle Southern Utah. He wrote a new song, “We’ve come so far,” that tells the story of a woman who had her feet amputated but still made it to Cedar City and eventually St. George to marry her husband.
“She wanted to get married to her sweetheart, so she walked all the way to St. George,” Justin Osmond said. “It’s a love song.”
The show also features a video about the Santa Clara flood and mentions prominent Southern Utah families like the Snows, Hamblins, Stuckis and Stahelis, and also tells stories about the pioneers of the area who were not of the LDS faith.
“While the Mormon pioneers are a huge part of Utah’s history, this production is non-denominational and celebrates all pioneers who made the trek to southern Utah and sacrificed so much for what we enjoy today,” Merrill Osmond said in a press release.
‘We almost pulled the plug’
The Pioneer Legacy event is a $100,000 production. With the large stage, hundreds of volunteers and a massive firework show, it’s not easy to put on. Throw in the July St. George heat and, well, the Osmonds had some doubts about bringing it back for 2018.
“We almost pulled the plug,” Justin Osmond said. “A lot of people don’t understand the intensive labor that goes into building this stage. This is really tough work, a lot of manual labor and the hardest part is building that in 105-degree weather.”
Last year, the crew had to manually lift everything into the stadium for the show. That caused a few of the staff to suffer heat strokes — and that was something the Osmonds weren’t willing to allow happen again.
“The game changer was Dixie State,” Justin Osmond said. “They brought in a ground cover, so we could bring in a forklift in to help carry the heavy equipment. When that happened, I was like, ‘Alright, we are back on.’ ”
The feeling of not wanting to disappoint the community and the desire to see the show go on also helped with the decision to bring back the production.
“I know the sweat, the tears and the blood that has been poured by so many people to make this happen,” Justin Osmond said. “We wanted to start a new tradition in St. George, especially for the younger generation. I sometimes feel that they are forgetting who the pioneers were, who their ancestors are. We can help them understand the sacrifices they went through so we can have what we have today.”
“Even though it is such hard work, it is so rewarding in the end,” he continued. “To see the amazing fireworks and the looks on the crowd’s faces and the tears and smiles as they remember their ancestors. It’s kind of bringing the family together.”
The Pioneer Legacy
When: July 24. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. There is a preshow from 8:30 to 9:15, and the main show starts at 9:20.
Where: Trailblazer Stadium at Dixie State University in St. George
Notes: Seating is first come, first served. Chairs, coolers and outside food are not allowed. Attendees can bring blankets and water. Food will be sold by vendors.
Benefit: Donations will be accepted for the Osmond Hearing Fund. Two families will receive new hearing aids at the show.