By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager
BRANSON, Mo. —
Brad Schroeder understands why, for many, Silver Dollar City's "An Old Time Christmas" is a family tradition.
"I think that it's all in one location," said Schroeder, who produces many of the park's theatrical productions. "All the good things about Christmas are captured at Silver Dollar City. There is something for every age group."
Schroeder and the parks staffers know that Christmastime is the park's most popular season.
"Folks marvel at all of the lights, and you can enjoy the food and crafts and see some tremendous Christmas entertainment," he said. "We all love Christmas."
Now through Dec. 30, the park is offering an addition to "A Dickens Christmas Carol," its longtime Broadway-style musical production. But the new show wasn't quick in the making.
"We first started working on the 'It's a Wonderful Life' concept five years ago," said Schroeder. "The assumption was that one of these days our crowds were going to get tired of 'A Dickens Christmas Carol.' We started working on ('Wonderful Life') as a replacement for 'Dickens.'"
Soon the idea changed. Schroeder said that staffers came to a consensus and agreed to keep "Dickens," as long as families kept coming to see it. In its 10th year, the park's musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" charmed more that a million show-goers.
"Chances are it will just keep going and going," he said. "Then, the issue was that if it's not going to be a replacement (for 'Dickens'), then what do we do with it?"
Schroeder said it didn't take long until management decided to stage both Christmas shows. It came down to one driving philosophy shared by the production team and the park's management, he said.
"We pride ourselves on telling stories," he said. "Whether it's through our architecture or our craftsmanship, our shows or the theming of our rides, we try to always tell stories."
Adding one more traditional Christmas tale to the list was a no-brainer, he said.
"It made sense to add one more famous Christmas story to the list," said Schroeder. "In addition to 'A Dickens Christmas Carol,' and we have 'The Living Nativity,' the greatest story ever told. We've got 'Frosty,' and now our own unique rendition of 'It's a Wonderful Life.'"
The production crew debuted 10 different Christmas shows last Saturday alone.
Broadway style, Ozarks charm
The creative process -- the writing, casting and producing -- for "It's a Wonderful Life" has been a challenge during the past five years for the park's production team. Schroeder said he knew it would resonate with park guests.
"It's one of my favorite Christmas stories, and everybody who I asked said the same thing," he said. "'It's a Wonderful Life' is a Christmas tradition."
He said the park's crew is excited to bring another high-quality show to the park's Christmas lineup. The movie-based story is a simple tale that focuses on George Bailey. According to Schroeder, Bailey is a middle-American everyman who dreams about leaving the small town of Bedford Falls to travel to exotic lands and become a famous architect. The character was famously played by Jimmy Stewart in the film version.
Striking out on their own, becoming someone bigger than they themselves perceive is the dream of many small-town kids, he said. But instead of traveling the world, George ends up in charge of the family business -- at a boring bank, nonetheless.
Distraught by his run-of-the-mill existence, George considers taking his own life. But a guardian angel, Clarence, descends to help George through his malaise. He gives George a preview of what his family and their lives would be like without his influence.
George realizes the error of his ways and prays for his boring, plain banker's life back.
"He realizes that faith, family and miracles are what it's all about," Schroeder said.
The park's "A Dickens Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" offer a common theme.
"'It's a Wonderful Life'" is an American version of 'Dickens' Christmas Carol,'" said Schroeder. "In both stories the protagonist is taken out (of) their own life and gets to view life without their influence in it. One is for the good and one for the not so good."
Sound a little dreary? It's not -- Schroeder assures the musical adaptation of the film story is for the entire family.
"It's a musical," he said. "We've always found our audiences respond when there are musical moments in a show."
As with the Dickens production, the crew opted to take a few creative liberties with the story.
"Even though you may have seen the movie and know the story, you are going to be exposed to some surprises in our rendition," he said. "One is based on a novel, and one is based on a movie. Even though they are wonderfully classic stories, I think it's good for us to offer two different approaches to the presentation."
Schroeder said he is proud of his new production's cast and crew.
"They have done a phenomenal job creating a 20-scene show in a building that was originally designed to be an exhibition hall," he said. "In 'It's a Wonderful Life.' there are 14 cast members who play 25 different characters during the show. Not only do they have to be great singers, but they have to be able to dance and act. They have to be triple threats."