Lighted parade, shows draws visitors to Silver Dollar City

30 Nov

When Nancy Noble thinks of Christmas, she thinks of Silver Dollar City.
“It’s wonderful,” the 63-year-old former Veterans Administration nurse said as she studied a Silver Dollar City map to plan her next move. “It’s beautiful. It’s what Christmas should be.”
Noble, a SDC season pass holder, said there isn’t any one thing that keeps her coming back to the attraction for the holidays.
“I guess I’m a repeat offender,” she said. “It’s the songs and the lights and the parade and the tree … wow! That tree is crazy. It’s just wonderful.”
Kathy Courtney, 64, of Blue Springs, Mo., agreed with her friend, Noble.
“I just love the outside activities and the food and the family atmosphere and being with friends,” she said. “I love the shows, too. I’ve seen all of them.”
Courtney, a former VA coworker of Noble, said she wouldn’t think of leaving before the park’s lighted parade.
“We love to sing carols on the train and I love the way ‘Grandpa’ tells the story of Christmas,” she said.
“Me, too,” Barbara Hudson, their longtime friend interjected. “He relates the story of the reason behind the season. If people don’t know what the season is about, they miss the point.”

Penguins, Snowflake girls
Putting smiles on the faces of the park’s guests is the job of Brad Schroeder, director of events and entertainment for Silver Dollar City. Since 1989, Schroeder has been a part of the creative team challenged with producing “Christmas on Main Street,” the “Gifts of Christmas Light Parade,” “A Dickens Christmas Carol” and reimagining the park’s five-story tall LED Christmas tree, which towers above town square.
“We started with just a five-story Christmas tree,” he said. “Now the entire square dances in lights to music. It’s a million-dollar upgrade that’s fun to see.”
Schroeder laughed and said he is impressed by the technology that generates the Christmas tree and town square’s musical special effects.
“The real magic is when the technicians take me inside the tree,” he said. “It’s a spaghetti web of cables and computers and metal and lights. It amazes me.”
Schroeder’s job is “exciting and challenging all of the time,” he said.
“We’ve got an awful lot of folks working (in the Light Parade) as drivers and performers and crowd controllers,” he said.
Sometimes, he explained, it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference. When they started developing the Light Parade, Schroeder couldn’t figure out how to keep park guests out of harms way, away from the turning wheels of the parade floats.
A friend in the business told him it was easy.
“Just paint white lines on the ground to mark the parade route,” he said, laughing. “It’s crazy, but it worked.”
Schroeder and his team are always looking for new elements to keep the nighttime procession fresh.
“The parade started with a few floats and then we added some more,” he said. “This year we added penguins and some snowflake girls. We always want new things for people to see. It’s rewarding to watch the children’s faces as the floats and characters go by.”

Classic tale
Another production that gets park goers excited is “A Dickens Christmas Carol,” a musical retelling of the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
“I think that everybody can relate to the story,” Schroeder said. “It’s been done a lot through the years.”
While the story is an old one, Silver Dollar City’s version has a couple of modern twists.
“Doing a story that everybody knows can be a creative double-edged sword,” he said.  “You have to surprise the audience with the familiar. They have never seen it presented the way we do it. Hopefully it resonates with the audience.”
Since debuting in 2003 the show has entertained more than 900,000 audience members. He said the park anticipates topping the million guest mark in 2011.
Schroder said the reason for the show’s success is because of the talent of the cast and crew.
“I tell people, ‘If you start with a terrific story and great talent you have a formula for success,’” he said.
Many of those onstage in the production are local residents and play a variety of roles at the park throughout the year.
“They all have ties to the area and homes and families,” he said. “Out of a cast of 30, we replaced only five or six this year. It makes my job pretty easy.”

Ozarks’ flavor
While the flash and glitter of millions of twinkling lights and the special and musical effects the park’s productions offer, the simpler attractions make people smile and reflect, too. A living nativity takes people back to the time of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and an old-fashioned train ride offers visitors the opportunity to slow down.
During the regular season, robbers hassle and hold up passengers on the park’s steam powered locomotive, a longtime favorite of kids of all ages. During the Christmas season riders sing carols, share stories and drink hot chocolate while a wise old man reminds them of the “reason for the season,” the celebration of Christ’s birth.
In the wintertime, the guests seem drawn toward the retelling of the Christmas story with an Ozarks’ flavor, Schroeder said.
“’The reason for the season’ is in all of our products,” Schroeder said. “It’s part of our culture and it’s the reason we do this stuff, anyway.”

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