GALLOWAY TWP. — Tucked away in this Atlantic County shore town is the village known as Historic Smithville, where heritage inns, bed & breakfasts, shops, and a picturesque lake come together in one of New Jersey's best-kept secrets.

Tourists can take a paddleboat out on the lake, ride a carousel, or take a train ride.

But as the weather gets colder, in preparation for those attractions to close for the winter, a special group of visitors provides one of the year's final, major outdoor events.

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"Dickens Fest," a free, two-day festival, is made possible with the participation of the Burlington-based Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company and its original, musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' iconic novella "A Christmas Carol."

This year, performances of the show will run Saturday, Nov. 27 at 1 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m.

Executive Director Clyde Riddlesbrood said the company's connection to Historic Smithville goes back two decades, to 2001, but much of the troupe's previous performance history there was indoors.

Then, COVID-19 struck.

So when the 2020 holiday season drew near, Riddlesbrood approached the village with the idea of presenting Dickens' Christmas tale as an outdoor festival.

"They loved the idea," he said.

Even though it's not a moneymaker for the theatre company, it keeps tourism coming into the village, and was notable enough to have an encore as one of Historic Smithville's main attractions this fall.

"I don't think, even when COVID goes away, if we'll ever go back to the old way," Riddlesbrood said, adding that "Christmas Carol" is unique to his company because it's one of the few adapted pieces they tackle, as opposed to originals. "I think in some ways, we like this even better than what we used to do. So it might have been a fortuitous thing."

Much of the rest of the charm of the village revolves around The Historic Smithville Inn (est. 1787), but there are also other restaurants, and dozens of shops, to explore along the cobblestones.

For more information on Historic Smithville, call the Colonial Inn Bed and Breakfast at 609-748-8999, and to find out what else Riddlesbrood is up to during the year, go to riddlesbrood.com.

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