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Overtures to Garnish Opening of Tuacahn

By William S. Goodfellow
Deseret News, 02 April 1995, page E3

Article Summary:

The gala opening of the Tuacahn Amphitheater and Center for the Arts will begin on 5 April 1995, with the Utah Symphony conducted by Robert Henderson.  The program will include Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon's “Tuacahn Overture”.  President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will dedicate the facility on 8 April 1995, followed by a concert by the Tabernacle Choir.

The $20-million arts complex is near the south entrance of Snow Canyon, 10 miles northwest of St. George.  The 80-acre site features 1,500-foot sandstone cliffs.  Tuacahn has a state-of-the-art music school in a 42,000-square-foot building, with theaters, dance studios, recording studio, teaching studios, recital room, and a shop for fixing instruments.  The amphitheater seats 2,000.  Expansion plans include student housing for summer music camps, a 1,000-seat theater and concert hall, and a visual arts building.

The theater represents the combined dream of Doug and Mary Stewart.  “Hers was to make sure her kids continued to get top-notch instruction in music,'' Stewart said of his wife. “Mine was to have fulfillment creating and reaching an audience.”

After moving to St. George in 1983, Doug Stewart began thinking about creating an outdoor theatrical venue.  “Here you have 3 million-plus going through the gates of Zion National Park each year, and I asked myself, `Why aren't we providing something for these people at night?'''

Encouraged by friends, Stewart began exploring funding possibilities.  The Heritage Arts Foundation was founded in September 1991, with the goal of  preserving “historical and cultural heritage through the arts, and to promote character and lasting values through the development of talents.”

Construction began in June 1993, but was delayed by rainy weather and endangered species.  In May 1994, two desert tortoises were found dead on the facility's entry road, resulting in “hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and the cost of implementing a habitat conservation plan to protect the tortoise.”

When naming the theater, Doug Steward was looking for something with “a Native American feel.”  He “massaged” a Mayan word for “canyon of the gods” to create the name “Tuacahn.”

Doug Stewart envisioned “an outdoor historical drama that would be second to none in the country, in which special effects and entertainment value would be paramount - because of our close proximity to Las Vegas - in an absolutely spectacular setting, which I was convinced we could find because of the wonderful red-rock canyons we have here.”

Named “Utah!”, the story follows pioneer leader Jacob Hamblin and includes the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Johnston's army, the Navajo uprising, and the flood of 1862.  As Tuacahn's “signature special effect”, “every night 30,000 gallons of water will rush down the hillside toward the stage, go across the stage toward the audience and destroy a stone fort.”  The production has a cast of 80 and  music by Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon.