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Encore Brings Magical Life of Santa to Hartland

"The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" opens on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Hartland Music Hall.

Believing in the magical life of Santa Claus comes naturally to many children.

Sometimes, however, even the believers ask those hard-to-answer questions such as, how do reindeer fly? Or why does Santa go down chimneys? And most importantly, what does happen to all those lost toys.

Starting this Friday night, the Hartland's Players Encore Youth Theater will answer those age-old questions and more as they present "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus."

Written by Frank Baum, the life of Saint Nick will be presented by the talented young cast, filled with memorable characters, elaborate costumes and sets that transform the historic Hartland Music Hall into Santa's magical world.

The young, talented cast is once again led by Kelli Neal, who plays Necile, the adoptive mother of Santa who loved and raised him from an infant into adulthood.

It's a credit to Neal's innate acting ability that even at her young age, she was able to portray a true mother's love for her son -- a pure, unconditional love which should be credited for how Santa would become a Saint.

Narrating parts of the story, it's Neal's confidence and natural way she speaks on stage that has the audience easily falling into her world of wood nymphs, fairies, imps and of course, Jack Frost.

And as is historically the case in all Encore productions, great recognition should be given to the hard work and detail of the costume and make up department. In this play, special props should be given for the character of Jack Frost, portrayed by Alanna Schiavone.

With all it's sparkle and shine, it was a tough costume to pull off since the eye of the audience is naturally drawn to it. Schiavone, however, did a marvelous job of living up to the embellishments and didn't let her costume overtake her performance but let it enhance it.

In contrast, Miya Mattucci, who stepped in to the most daunting role of the play as Santa, there was no sparkle or shine, just simple, understated grace. Which is how Mattucci played her role. Understated and quiet, yet with a strong presence it deserved.

The world was taught that Santa never did his job for attention, it was always to just make children happy which is how Mattuci played her part-- with quiet grace and understated kindness -- exactly how one of the most giving and kindest characters in the history of the world deserved to be represented.

And while Neal's strength, Schiavone's flair and Mattucci's grace embodied their three characters, it was their supporting cast that gave the play life, joy and laughter. From giggling reindeer to one scene stealing gnome, the play is filled with many moments that will have you and your young children laughing out loud with pure joy. 

Having the ability to make people laugh is a wonderful gift and while the whole cast looked like they were having fun on stage, Marlena Szczechowicz and Zoe Shettler, who portray Queen and Kind Awagwa, gave a wonderfully fun, funny second half performance, a true gift for the season.

This wonderful Christmastime play, put on by a tremendous cast, will have kids of all ages believing in Santa and counting down the days till Christmas.

"The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" opens Friday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m at the Hartland Music Hall. Weekend performances include Saturday, Dec. 7 showtimes at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are available online, at the village location of Cromaine Library or a half hour at the door before showtime, if available.

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