News Column

Sevier County holiday shows offer music, magic, the manger and a ghostly Dolly [News Sentinel]

November 16, 2013

YellowBrix

The Great Smoky Mountains are coming alive with the anticipated arrival of Christmas. Lights will soon adorn the Parkway, festivals will entice those hoping to get into the Christmas spirit and several Pigeon Forge theaters have kicked off their Christmas shows.

This Christmas season in the Smokies will feature new shows, a Broadway-style production and new technology, meshing old-time traditions with holographic technology.

EBENEZER MEETS DOLLY

Dollywood has kicked off its newest Christmas show that is based on a Christmas classic. Charles Dickens' "The Christmas Carol" opened Nov. 9 at the Celebrity Theater in Dollywood. The show utilizes holographic technology to create images of the ghosts of Bob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Dolly Parton plays the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her performances will not be live but in the form of a hologram.

"The production is a musical featuring eight new songs written by Dolly," said Paul Couch, entertainment director at Dollywood. "Aaron Hunt plays Ebenezer Scrooge. The sets are incredible, the costumes are beautiful. It is a Broadway-style show the likes of which has never been seen in this area. This type of show is a first for Dollywood, and I think this is the first time 'A Christmas Carol' has ever been presented with holograms."

The show features a cast of 16 actors who will perform the show four times daily throughout the Christmas season.

According to Couch the show is true to the original work of Dickens. Ebenezer's grim destiny is unveiled to him in the cemetery and he is struck with the epiphany that he will die a lonely, useless death if he does not reform. The show is set in Victorian England, which raises an interesting question about Parton's Southern accent. How will they incorporate that Tennessee twang Parton is known for into a show in which she is surrounded by actors speaking with British accents?

"She makes it clear in the play where she is from," said Couch.

For information visit www.dollywood.com.

MUSIC AND THE MANGER

Biblical Times Dinner Theater presents the story of the first Christmas also utilizing holograms. Biblical Times was the first theater in the area to utilize the revolutionary technology.

The story is told by Simeon, a prophet who tells of the coming of the Christ Child. Simeon is excited having hoped to live long enough to witness the birth of the Messiah.

The holograms interact with a cast of award-winning actors and singers. During the first hour of the show, the audience is entertained with Christmas carols by the living cast members and a feast of Biblical proportions that includes hand-carved turkey, pulled pork, grilled chicken fillet, salad, herb-garnished red potatoes, baked beans, cheddar cheese biscuits, Christmas caramel cream cake, and tea and lemonade.

Along with traditional Christmas music, the cast performs Southern gospel, old hymns, new contemporary, and patriotic music during the first half of the show. The cast performs a comical parody entitled "The 12 Pains of Christmas" in which they sing about the things that can make the Christmas season agonizing, including in-laws, five months of bills, fruit cake, defective Christmas lights, long lines and other challenges. The Christmas Story is presented throughout the second half.

The holographic technology mixed with live performers makes it sometimes difficult to ascertain which characters are real and which are holograms. During the manger scene actors portraying Joseph and Mary stand next to farm animals that are holograms. Great attention was paid to even the smallest detail. The breath of the animals presented in hologram appears to frost in the cold night air of Bethlehem.

The Christmas Story runs through Jan. 4, 2014. For information visit www.biblicaltimestheater.com.

GOSPEL RETROSPECTIVE

Gospel music legends the Blackwoods kicked off their Christmas show Nov. 12. The Blackwoods have a storied history spanning more than a century. Ancestors of R.W. Blackwood began playing gospel music in 1899. The tradition has passed through the decades and continues in a morning show at the Smoky Mountain Opry. Though the line-up has changed as members have retired or passed away, the family's commitment to their gospel roots has remained unchanged. Over the years, the Blackwoods have won eight Grammy Awards, four Dove Awards and were recently inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Currently performing with R.W. and Donna Blackwood is Jonathan Lee Kunkle, Karen Tillery, Brad Smith and Craig Hodges.

The first half of the Blackwood's Christmas show tells the history of the Blackwoods and their gospel music. It features the timeless music that made them icons. The second half of the show is a telling of the Christmas story by a puppet named Horace. Award- winning puppeteers Bob and Marty Hamill provide the voices and puppetry as the Blackwoods perform classic Christmas tunes in harmonies that are as tight as a drum.

The voice of Mary is performed by 14-year-old Kassadi Mace who tells about the majesty of the birth of the Christ child.

During the birth medley the Blackwoods perform "Hark, the herald angels sing", "Little town of Bethlehem", "Mary, did you know" and many other Christmas favorites.

For information visit http://smokymtnopry.com/shows/blackwoods- morning-variety-show.

HILLBILLY HIGH JINKS

Those irascible feudin' families are at it again in the Hatfield and McCoy's Christmas Disaster. The two families are at odds because one of the McCoy's sons has allegedly kidnapped a Hatfield daughter. Unbeknownst to their families, the young couple had eloped and had a child within the past year.

Mayhem breaks loose at a Christmas party and the families engage in a competition of singing, dancing, guitar playing, banjo playing and finally a fist fight. They return home to prepare for yet another competition of the decorative sort.

Eventually, the families make peace in the spirit of the holiday, vowing to resume their feud as soon as Dec. 26 arrives.

During the pre-show, dinner is served featuring fried chicken, pulled pork, rolls, soup, corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw and beans followed by Ma's chocolate Christmas pudding.

The show features a cast of more than 20 performers including clogger Blake Elkins, who appeared on "America's Got Talent" and Knoxville native April Johnson who plays banjo and guitar.

For information about the Hatfield and McCoys Christmas Disaster visit www.hatfieldmccoydinnerfeud.com.

MAGIC AND MORE

The biggest and perhaps most elaborate production in the Smokies is the multimillion-dollar Christmas production at the Smoky Mountain Opry.

The Opry's Christmas show features 32 performers that sing, dance, perform comedy and magic, ice skaters and swing through the air. The show begins with a laser light show choreographed to Christmas music and features a scene depicting Christmas through the eyes of a little girl who beholds the magic of the holiday when she visits Santa's workshop.

There, the jolly old elf magically brings several toys to life including a soldier and a ballerina. The finale of the magical sequence comes when the little girl places a stuffed lion into a cage and a moment later a live white lion appears before her wondrous eyes.

The magic is choreographed by award-winning master magician Michael Keating who has orchestrated magic shows in Las Vegas.

Knoxville native Lakieta Bagwell performs several Christmas carols in her powerful voice. Comedian Slim Chance plays Santa in a skit depicting ol' St. Nick's activities during the off season. In the skit, Santa is relaxing in a trailer park in Louisiana when he is visited by three bearded men in camouflage who refer to themselves as the "Dork Dynasty." They are joined by other inhabitants of the trailer park who get their sheet music mixed up and engage in a hilarious, convoluted symphony of carols. It's an unlikely medley of Christmas classics, creating a comical outcome.

The highlight of the show is a re-creation of the birth of Christ featuring angels descending from the rafters suspended from cables. The Nativity features a donkey, sheep and two camels led onto the stage by the wise men and shepherds as they come to pay homage to the newborn king. The scene concludes with an inspiring rendition of "O Holy Night."

For information about the Smoky Mountain Opry visit www.smokymtnopry.com.

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