For the past 29 years, Dollywood’s “Christmas in the Smokies” musical stage show has been a guest favorite—so much so, in fact, that it’s the park’s longest-running show! With a cast of 15 talented singers and dancers, eight live musicians, and about a dozen stage crew members, the Christmas-Americana production runs four times daily, six days a week during the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival.
A Christmas Memory
Opening in 1990, this beloved stage show has become a staple for Dollywood guests celebrating Christmas with family and friends while at the park. On a personal note, this was my dad’s favorite show. Growing up, he would watch, family by his side, with a gentle smile, as the cast sang “Let’s Make a Memory this Christmas.” That ultimately became his mantra—to make each Christmas memorable. We lost him a few years ago, but I can’t help feeling his spirit each year as I find myself in DP’s Celebrity Theater enjoying this show.
The story leads us through what might have been a typical Smoky Mountain Christmas in the late 1800s. The focus? Simple: family, friends, faith—together, these ingredients are the “secret spice” of celebrating the joy of the season. Wrapped around celebrations and traditions, the musical selections include holiday favorites like, “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’,” “Tender Tennessee Christmas,” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Behind the Scenes
To write this blog, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes of this iconic Dollywood production. On opening day, I sat down for a few minutes with Senior Manager and Show Producer, Justin Bradley. He was once a “Christmas in the Smokies” performer, and it’s evident that he is very passionate about both the preparation of the production and how it connects with the hearts of those who are watching.
Because of the non-stop production schedule of other seasonal shows, the cast and crew have roughly two and a half weeks to learn the parts, build sets and costume the cast. Justin told me, “It’s long hours of rehearsing and building the show–hard work, but our reward comes from the great feedback we get from our guests. They love it, and they get what it means. You feel something from this show.” He credits the show’s popularity to the cast, saying that there is a “sense of family and community—being on the same page often breeds success.” And although cast members come and go throughout the years, the Dollywood casting teams work hard to put the right performers in the right shows.
Stage Manager, Chris Sanford, (who was also a performer in the show for several years) walked me around backstage to see the details of the set. He showed me the “quick costume change” areas, and even pointed out the impressive LED background screen which has only been used for a few seasons. He noted that the sets are stored “off-campus” and when they are assembled on the stage each year, decorators come in to give it that special touch of a traditional Smoky Mountain Christmas.
All the Feels
In addition to the beautiful snowy mountain scenery, the stage is filled with joy as the cast members sing and dance their way through a winter wonderland right into the captivating spirit-filled story of that first Christmas night. An audience favorite is the trio of Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel singing “The Lord is with You.” And the finale of the show will make you want to jump to your feet in triumphant celebration!
Later that day I watched the show with a different awareness of the heart that goes into creating this production. I went down front to meet the cast after the show. I not only wanted to thank them for their hard work but acknowledge their sacrifice of time and creative energy. They had truly filled my heart with peace, love and joy.
I met Tom, as I was leaving the theater. Tom Hacker has been a performer at Dollywood for more than 30 years. If you have seen the production, he’s the one who blows the roof off of the building while singing “What Music I Hear in Your Name.” It’s reason enough to see the show! Tom told me that he had proposed to his wife from that stage during a summer musical 28 years ago. This year, his daughter, Bria, who was in the spring/summer musical “Dreamland Drive-In” said “yes” to her fiancée while performing their final show of the season. I met Bria because she also performs in “Christmas in the Smokies” alongside her Dad. She said she grew up watching the show and it was a really special experience to share the stage with her father.
Justin Bradley told me that Dollywood’s heart is to make guests feel at home and connected to the true spirit of Christmas.” Well, I echo the talented cast when I say, “Christmas in the Smokies is where I belong.”
Did You Know? If you are too caught up in the “hustle and bustle” of pre-Christmas festivities to visit Dollywood before Santa’s arrival, the park is open until Jan. 4 this season. You can take a holiday break after Christmas and enjoy all of the lights and shows.