LAYTON -- Changes are afoot in the 13th annual production of "Journey to Bethlehem."
The retelling of the Christmas story, which begins Thursday at Mountain View Baptist Church, features some new characters and scenes, says director Justin Hudspeth.
"We're going to surprise some of our veteran attendees," says the church member and Salt Lake City resident.
"Journey to Bethlehem" features a cast of nearly 100 costumed actors -- plus assorted llamas, sheep, horses and donkeys -- who take visitors on an outdoor trek to a live manger scene.
"You're basically a time traveler for an hour," Hudspeth says. "We go out of our way to really bring on the illusion of being in the first century."
Over the years, visitors have come to expect certain events in the production, such as being robbed by bandits during a walk through the woods, the director says.
This year, he explains, "We moved the robbers' station, so (travelers) don't see it coming."
Another change occurs when the shepherds are visited by an angel: "It's an old scene with a new twist," Hudspeth says.
The manger scene itself has a more contemplative feel and, as a result, Mary and Joseph's donkey -- who was "a little too noisy" -- is now found over by the inn, Hudspeth says.
About 250 volunteers work behind the scenes to stage the journey, be it sprinkling kitty litter on slippery pathways or pouring hot chocolate, the director says. The free event attracted more than 5,000 visitors last year and focuses on a story shared by many Christian denominations.
"It's something that's very unifying for the whole community," says Hudspeth, whose parents, Kelly and Linda Hudspeth, of Hooper, are the project's head directors.
"Journey to Bethlehem" runs 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 3, and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 at the church, 2585 E. 3000 North. The journey lasts one hour; tours leave about every six minutes.
The event takes place rain or shine, so Hudspeth recommends dressing for the weather.
For more information, call 801-771-3204.