To The North Pole We Went!

November 21, 2022

To The North Pole We Went


On Wednesday, November 9, 2022, Broadway Utica paved the way for 1500 local students to come to The Stanley Theatre and watch the holiday classic film The Polar Express in unison. However, a traditional movie this most certainly was not.

Thousands of tiny faces pressed against the cold, frosted glass, their eyes like giant saucers, as yellow buses approached The Stanley Theatre. The chill of winter swirled through the air as an actor, dressed as The Polar Express conductor, paced the sidewalk with an oversized lantern and stopwatch in his hand, as he shouted, “Welcome! Welcome to the Polar Express!”

The doors of the buses opened to a wave of youthful chatter. Pajama-clad students, teachers, and chaperones walked under the grand marquee, where Broadway Utica employees gleefully punched their tickets and escorted them inside the warm, 100-year-old theater.

Students stood breathless as they marveled over the grand chandeliers, intricate staircases, and beautiful red carpet amidst the gold, glittery sconces of the theater.

“Do people live here?” a student asked.

“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” a toothless 1st grader replied.

Just then, an actor carrying large stacks of hot chocolate on an oversized tray zipped through the crowd.

“Get your hot chocolate!” he yelled. “Hot, Hot, Hot! Oh, we got it! Hot Chocolate!”

Students laughed; their excitement bouncing off the velvet wallpaper. Younger actors dressed as the children aboard The Polar Express ran past students exclaiming, “Hurry, it’s the Polar Express!” as they made their way down the aisles.

Once seated, Danielle Padula, Executive Director of Broadway Utica, walked onto the stage and invited 1500 students, and their teachers and chaperones, to scream.

“I can’t hear you!” she yelled, forcing them to shout once again.

In the distance, someone began to clap. Slow and soft at first, the clapping gained momentum creating a contagious wave of beats that ignited the crowd.

Clap, clap, clap clap clap clap until the noise resembled the sound of the moving train that suddenly appeared on the large screen. A loud cheer filled the air and the lights dimmed as The Polar Express filled the darkness.

Nestled in their red, velvet seats, a hush of silence blanketed the 1500 students as they took in the story. It was bright, animated, and filled with the questioning philosophy that ponders most children this time of year – what did they believe to be true?

There were giggles, heart-wrenching scenes, and a questionable encounter with a homeless man who boiled his socks over an open fire on top of a moving train. Yet, unlike a movie screened in a traditional theater, this particular debut continued to welcome the student’s participation. Every train scene was greeted with clapping beats, cheers rose when elves were spotted running across the screen, and a mighty roar of 1500 little bodies erupted when Santa Claus finally appeared.

As the movie concluded, and the young man from The Polar Express settled back into his home, a round of applause washed over the theater. Bodies bounced in their seats and teachers cheered. Everyone – including the group of boys who swore they wouldn’t like the movie – suddenly understood that no matter the reason behind the excitement they were feeling – be it because they were with a group of friends, experiencing the beauty of a new space, or spending the day away from math and English assignments – they needed and wanted to share in that feeling.

In the end, what mattered for these students wasn’t the holiday or what everyone celebrated, but rather the spirit and joy they brought to share with others. And that, among this beautiful blend of students from all different schools and walks of life, is exactly what Broadway Utica hoped to emulate.

As buses arrived and students poured out of The Stanley Theatre, and back into their golden ride, they could be seen giving a final wave to Broadway Utica and Stanley workers, the conductor and all its helpers, and the friends they’d met along the way. However, there was one bus – bus #39 – who reported having heard the sound of bells jingling just before he closed his doors and drove away. While the students assured him he’d just heard the bells of Santa, the bus driver wasn’t so sure he believed. But, like the students reported when they shared the story back at school, “sometimes, the most real things in the world are simply the things we can’t see.”

Thank you to our sponsors:

Adorino Construction
All Seasons Textile
Bank of Utica
First Source Federal Credit Union
Leatherstocking Abstract & Title Corp
Rob H. & Rona L.
PJ Green
Save of the Day Foundation

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