As part of the centennial celebration of the 1847 Mormon migration across the plains and the arrival in the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, the musical “Promised Valley” was commissioned by the State of Utah. The musical has been produced and loved for more than sixty years beyond its original premiere.
Arnold Sundgaard, a successful Broadway playwright, librettist, and lyricist, wrote the dialogue and lyrics and a young, up-and-coming composer was selected to collaborate with Sundgaard—Crawford Gates—who was only 25 years old at the time. He remembers the surprise and concern people felt over his age and inexperience, “I know lots of people had their fingers crossed, but I knew I could do the job.” Although Gates was then in graduate school at Brigham Young University, he had directed the San Jose California Symphony playing an orchestral piece he had composed and received a standing ovation. He was only 17 years old.
“Promised Valley” is the story of the colonization of Utah as told through the eyes of one pioneering couple and celebrates the strength and faith of the early pioneers. The original production was staged in the University of Utah stadium and was presented on seventeen nights between July 21 and August 10, 1947. A shortened version designed for tourists was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and played for nineteen summers in downtown Salt Lake City (with the lighted spires of the Salt Lake Temple in the background) at the Temple View Theater, an outdoor amphitheater on the block that now houses the LDS Church Office Building. The Church, which never owned the rights to the show, later produced the musical at Promised Valley Playhouse.
For the original production, Alfred Drake, who had been singing and starring on Broadway for four years in “Oklahoma,” was signed as the lead in “Promised Valley,” along with Jet McDonald and a strong cast of local actors in supporting roles. Lowell Lees directed the show, with Maurice Abravanel directing the music. “Promised Valley” has been translated into six languages and performed by Church groups throughout the world. Former Promised Valley Playhouse artistic director Pat Davis said of it, “Just as you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ you don't have to be Mormon to appreciate ‘Promised Valley.’ ”
Promised Valley Playhouse
In 1972, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought and restored the Orpheum Theatre (built in 1905) for church plays, renaming it the Promised Valley Playhouse. It had served as a cinema since 1918 but had closed in 1996 because of structural problems. In 2000, the Church replaced the playhouse by building a new 911-seat theater as part of its new Conference Center. Salt Lake County demolished the auditorium in 2002, but the façade, lobby, and office area were preserved and are currently renovated office space.