Category Archives: Branson Shows

Acrobats of China is incredible amazing entertainment your whole family will absolutely love

How many is that on one bicycle?

How many is that on one bicycle?

“Wow!” is my impression of the 2015 edition of the Acrobats of China featuring “The New Shanghai Circus” and starring the “Fenton Acrobatic Troupe.” That’s a big “Wow” for me because, as the show starts its 17th year in Branson, I have seen them perform about 14 out of those 17 years and, although it seems I have said this a lot over the years, this is absolutely the best yet. The world renowned skill, expertise and variety of exciting acts along with the great choreography, color and pageantry of years past is there, but it is presented in a brand new format that adds an entirely new dynamic to what was already one of Branson’s most popular shows.

The theme of the show, carried out throughout, is exploring “the ancient art of Chinese Acrobatics, Chinese Culture and stories taken from the 200 year old ‘Beijing Opera,’ which is an exciting and beautiful form of theatre encompassing storytelling, singing, acting, dance, costume, stagecraft, gymnastics, martial arts and makeup.” Most of the shows many acts are preceded by an introduction beautifully tying the act into Chinese history or the opera. This takes the acrobatic or gymnastic skills of the performer(s) and embeds it into the act’s “mini story” adding another entertainment element for the audience to enjoy.

The shows high flying Silk Act was amazing and flawlessly performed. Its introduction and presentation was framed around tragic opera, “The Goddess of Luo River,” in which Zhen Mi, the beautiful daughter of a high ranking official is forced by her father to marry the wrong man. Her true love, Cao Zhi, saddened by her marriage, composed a poem describing how they met and fell in love. It’s interesting to see how each different skill set and act is seamlessly melded into its historical or operatic partner.

Continuing on the same theme, and an entirely new act this year, is the exciting and amazing “Fork in the Road,” combines a mixture of the Beijing Opera and Chinese Kung Fu to tell the story of a weary warrior who stops at an inn for the night and defends himself when the inn keeper and his evil friends sneak in to attack him and steal his goods. This is a “black light” performance is one of the most unique and exciting acts I have ever seen performed in the show. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I can say that you will be unable to “mask” your amazement as they “levitate” the action and excitement of the show to a new level.

Hoop Jumping is just one of  the many exciting and dangerous acts that are performed.

Hoop Jumping is just one of the many exciting and dangerous acts that you will see.

From juggling to strength acts, hoop jumping, an unbelievable bike act, pole climbing and so much more this show truly entertains the entire family throughout the entire two hours of the show, entertaining kids and adults simultaneously. Each act seamlessly transitions from one to another, almost like magic, with no dead time. The skill and energy of these performers is amazing even to the way they leave the stage and rush out to the lobby to meet and greet the audience after the show.

Just sitting in the back, watching the reaction of the kids and, for that matter, the adults during the show, was a joy. After the show the Fine family from Higginsville, Missouri was kind enough to share their opinion of the show with me. That’s the good news, the bad news is that because of “operator error” my recorder “misfired,” but as best as I can recollect, Mrs. Fine said she loved the show and the interactive way it was presented. Her two young daughters, ages 7 and 9 I believe, enthusiastically said that they really liked the show and felt that other kids there age would too.

If you want to share something unique, exciting, colorful, that the whole family will enjoy and is in a class by itself in terms of the skill and daring displayed throughout, then you don’t want to miss these championship acrobats as they perform in this incredible production.

For additional information or tickets for the Acrobats of China please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

Five reasons you and your family shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the amazing Jonah

30,000 pound boat "sails" the stage and breaks up during storm.

30,000 pound boat “sails” the stage and breaks up during storm.

When I went to see Jonah at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Branson as it premiered last year I did so in the context of having seen all of the spectacular Sight and Sound Branson shows, “Noah, the Musical,” “Miracle of Christmas,” and “Joseph.” I expected to see a show with great music, vocals, spectacular sets and costuming presented as only Sight and Sound can do it. Well, I got what I expected and, in terms of what most people think about what swallowed “Jonah” a “whale” of lot more.”

Recently, Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center, reminded me that although Jonah’s Branson premier was just a year ago that time is running out for Branson visitors to see it because it will be replaced by another production, “Moses” next year. If you have not seen this fantastic show here are a few reasons why we believe that you should consider seeing it and sharing it with your family before it leaves Branson:

1. The whole family can enjoy it together: All Branson shows are family friendly in terms of content, but some are more kid friendly, in terms of their content being able to hold their interest throughout the majority of the show. Still fewer can entertain children of different ages and adults simultaneously and at entertainment level they all enjoy. Jonah does.

2. Spectacular Props and Sets: Sight and Sound is known for their spectacular props and sets and as great as they have been in their other Sight and Sound Branson productions, in Jonah they are just about unbelievable. One example is the ship from which Jonah is thrown into the sea; took two years to build and weighs 30,000 pounds.

3. Action and Special Effects: Sight and Sound are experts at filling their 300 foot surround sound stage with music, action, dancing, drama and special effects melded into magnificent productions. The action scenes of the ship breaking up; Jonah flying through the air, particularly as he departs the belly of the great “fish;” the set of Jonah in the belly of the fish and the underwater scene with the great “fish” are simply magnificent and something no one has ever come close to seeing on a Branson stage.

4. The Magnificent Underwater Segment: As Jonah is thrown into the sea by the crew of the ship and sinks into the ocean depths, the audience is literally “immersed,” in a spectacular underwater environment as beautiful fish swim by, Jelly Fish float about and the great “fish” comes out of the darkness and swims slowly and gracefully out over the audience through a beautiful underwater world and then, returns to swallow Jonah. Parents need not worry, the actual swallowing of Jonah by the “fish” is not seen. One minute the fish is swimming toward him and the next, there is a set with Jonah in the belly of the fish. Jonah’s exit from the belly of the fish was a “high flying” experience that delighted the audience.

5. An Epic Biblical Story Spectacularly Brought to Life: Jonah has it all, drama; original music produced specifically for the show and performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra; great vocals sung live on stage by the shows cast; dancing; 30 live animals ; colorful costuming and great sound, special effects and lighting and simply spectacular sets. That said however, it is the energy and talent of the shows cast of 41 performers that brings the epic bible story of Jonah, and how he tried to run from what he knew God wanted him to do, to life in a very special, inspirational and entertaining way.

In a nutshell, Jonah is unlike anything that most people will every see live on stage, a pure joy to experience and something is that every member of the family can enjoy together and remember for a lifetime. Jonah will be performed through December 29, 2015.

For additional information or tickets for Jonah please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

Material Connection

Answers to your questions about the famed Branson Strip

The iconic Presley's Theatre, home of the "first show" on the "Branson Strip," "Presleys' Country Music Jubilee."

The iconic Presley’s Theatre, home of the “first show” on the “Branson Strip,” “Presleys’ Country Music Jubilee.”

“Just about everyone who comes to Branson, wants to see the famed Branson Strip and will, whether they want to or not because of its location,” says Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. Here’s some answers to some of the most asked questions about The Strip that we hope you will find interesting:

Where does the Branson Strip Actually Start and end? That depends. An argument could be made that, on its east side, it starts at the junction of Roark Valley Road and Highway 76, at the Veteran’s Memorial Park and runs west on Highway 76 until its intersection with the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway at its western end. Most however, say it starts .8 miles west on Highway 76 at the intersection of Fall Creek Road and Highway 76, and runs west on Highway 76 until its intersection with the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway at its western end, because that’s where the theatres and most of the attractions start. For purposes of this piece we are going with the majority view as to the eastern start of “The Strip.” There is minimal, if any, debate on its western end.

How long is the Branson Strip? As measured on my odometer today it is 3.3 miles long from its eastern end at the Intersection of the Fall Creek Road and Highway 76.

What is the first theatre on the Branson Strip? Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theatre, the home of two of Branson’s most popular shows the fabulous Legends in Concert Show and the Bretts morning show, is the first theatre on the Branson Strip. It’s right across the street from another of Branson’s most popular theatre attractions, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.

Wasn’t the Presleys’ theatre the first theatre on the Branson Strip? Yes, it was, it’s a matter of “tense.” In 1967, when they first opened and started performing Presleys’ Country Jubilee, there was no “Branson Strip” and not much of anything else near them, just Highway 76 heading west toward Silver Dollar City. As other theatres were built east and west of them what is now known as the “Branson Strip” developed, but first there was the Presleys and the Presleys’ Country Jubilee which has been performing there continuously ever since and is, perennially, one of Branson’s most popular and beloved shows. It has been said, “You haven’t seen Branson until you’ve seen Presleys’ Country Jubilee.”

Is there any formal signage showing that you are on the Branson Strip? No, but if you are on Highway 76, and you see a theatre marquee you are on “The Strip.”

Is Silver Dollar City or Branson Landing on the Branson Strip? No. Although Silver Dollar City, the 1880’s styled award winning theme park that is Branson’s most popular paid attraction is located on Highway 76, it is miles west of “The Strip” and is not actually inside the city limits of Branson. Branson Landing is located east of “The Strip” at the end of Main Street.

Didn’t the tornado of 2012 tear up “The Strip?” Actually very little damage was done to most of the attractions and theatres on “The Strip” by the tornado. The three major theatres that were extensively damaged have all been remodeled and are in operation. Interestingly, and illustrating just how spotty the damage was, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theatre was extensively damaged resulting in just about a new theatre while the Dixie Stampede, located immediately across the street, wasn’t damaged at all.

Where is the biggest concentration of shows and attractions on The Strip? Although there are dozens of major attractions up and down the strip it is hard to imagine that there is a more concentrated area than the .6 miles from Andy’s Custard west to the World’s Largest Toy Museum that includes White Water; popular Branson shows such as SIX, It starring the Hughes Brothers and their Families, the Duttons, George Dyer, Ayo staring the Voices of Glory and others along with everything from mini golf to multi story high go-kart tracks.

It’s no illusion the Illusionist Rick Thomas show is an amazing magical entertainment “10” your whole family will enjoy

Rick Thomas and assistant Tara Edgerton are a magical combination extraordinaire.

Rick Thomas and assistant Tara Edgerton are a magical combination extraordinaire.

The short and quick of it is, if you want to see one of the best magic shows to ever appear on a Branson stage you don’t want you and your family to miss the Illusionist Rick Thomas Show at the Moon River Theatre. In over 28 years of seeing magic shows in Branson I have never been as amazed or entertained by a magic show as I was by this show when I saw it on the night of May 23 with many of my peers from the Branson Tourism Center and the Branson tourism industry.

Rick and Lightening.

Rick and Lightning.

From the time the show starts until it ends with a “blast,” it is two hours of truly magical non-stop entertainment with a variety of illusions; close up magic; what I call “mind magic;” doves, dogs, color, brightness, dancing, music and action that will “knock your socks off.” The magic is illusionary, but the fun, excitement and enjoyment I experienced, and witnessed others enjoying was real.

There’s no aloofness or mystery here, just a man who obviously relates well to both adults and kids, getting them invested in the show early on and keeping them enthralled throughout. He is a master at his craft and just seems to be able to communicate to his audience that he is having so much fun doing what he is doing as he draws them into that fun. It is simply magical in its own right and adds so much to the excitement and enjoyment of the show.

With his beautiful and talented assistant, Tara Edgerton and dancers Shelley Tess-Webster, Jenna Perez, Sarah Tochtrop Thomas Gray, Lewis Darlington and Gareth Evans, he combines beautiful music and dancing with some of the “most intriguing and innovative Grand Illusions in the world” into a spectacular entertainment experience. Whether it was Rick performing one of his illusions, the dancers dancing or him working the audience, this fast paced show had me sitting on the edge of my seat marveling at what I had just seen and anxious to see what was coming next.

This is one of those shows that both adults and children can simultaneously enjoy together throughout. Kids and adults alike love the magic and the dancing and even on the couple of occasions when kids were brought up on stage to interact with him it was seamlessly done in a way that not only gave the children in the audience a chance to relate to their peers on stage, but enhanced the quality of the entertainment experience of the adults in the audience at the same time.

Because it is a magic show and surprise and awe is such a big part of its excitement I will not go into the specifics of the illusions except to say, “From birds and motorcycles to Lightning, seeing time stand still and from dogs to beautiful women you will be amazed and dazzled by the illusions of Rick Thomas as they come at you one after the other as part of this wonderful magical experience.

The start of the amazing,  unique "Air Adage."

The start of the amazing, unique “Air Adage.”

OK, I have to mention one. The “Air Adage” illusion with Tara dancing so gracefully high above the stage is as beautiful as it is amazing, not only from an illusion perspective, but from the grace and skill of the dancing itself. It is a unique one of a kind illusion that I will never forget and bet you won’t either.

I asked two of my compatriots from the Branson tourism industry who attended the same show, what they thought of it. “I’d rate it a ’10!’ said Megan Miller who has seen a number of magic shows in Branson over the years. When asked what she liked best Megan said that she liked the illusions involving the dog, the way he relates to the audience and the “blast” at the end of the show.

Noell Chapman, another Branson tourism professional, has also seen a number of magic shows in Branson over the years and when asked how she would rank it on a 10 point scale she said, “10 plus!” When asked what her one favorite part of the show was she said, “I loved the way they levitated into ‘the sky’ and gracefully floated above the stage like they were swimming in water, but there’s no water!” She said that she has never seen anything like it, highly recommends the show and would definitely recommend if for families with kids.”

For additional information or tickets for the Illusionist Rick Thomas Show please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

Grand Jubilee truly is grand entertainment for your whole family

 

"New South," Jon Drockelman (Left),  Mark  McCauley David Ragan and Luke Menard

“New South,” Jon Drockelman (Left), Mark McCauley David Ragan and Luke Menard

The short and quick of it is, “Don’t miss it, the Grand Jubilee show truly is “grand” entertainment for your whole family.” As many times as I have seen this show, I expect to see and experience dynamic vocals from the quartet “New South” and Jackie Brown, hilarious comedy from Jamie Haage, great music from the “Grand Band” and the excellent emceeing of the show’s producer Mike Patrick resulting in an absolutely “grand” entertainment experience. I have never been disappointed, but this year there’s a synergy and energy that just adds another dimension of anticipation, excitement and excellence to what was already one of Branson’s top shows.

From the time the curtain goes up, well maybe even a little before, it’s non-stop entertainment filled with some of the finest vocals and comedy on any Branson stage. The main vocal component is the group “New South,” composed of Lead Vocalist, David Ragan, Tenor, Luke Menard, Baritone, Jon Drockelman and Bass, Mark McCauley. New South has consistently been one of Branson’s most outstanding quartets even as different singers have rotated in and out periodically. David Regan, the newest member of the group, is starting his first full season with the group and, if the show I saw was any indication, his addition will do nothing, but enhance and grow that tradition of musical excellence.

Each member of the group has a great voice that is demonstrated in “solo” features throughout the show, but when they sing together well, that’s when you will find yourself shaking your head thinking, “These guys are good, really good.” And if it was just their singing that would be enough, but there is an energy, enthusiasm and spirit of fun that just seems to radiate from them to the audience and draw them into the performance that adds so much to the enjoyment of the show.

New South performs a variety of music from many different genres including country, gospel, patriotic, and even a dash of Irish hard rock covering decades of hits and does an amazing job on them all. From among many, and although certainly subjective, some of my favorites were “Elvira,” featuring the bass voice of Bass Mark McCauley, the Irish hard rock song, “The Boys Are Back In Town, and, my absolute favorite, “How Great Thou Art” which was simply one of the most powerful and beautiful renditions of that song I have ever heard highlighted by David Regan singing the second verse and “the note.” What’s the note? When you hear it you’ll know!

The lovely Jackie Brown, performing "Cry."

The lovely Jackie Brown, performing “Cry.”

Jackie Brown is the show’s female vocalist. Her vocal talents are demonstrated on a number of songs throughout the show. My personal favorite was her performance of the Johnnie Ray classic “Cry.” What a tremendous job!

The “Grand Band” includes of some of the finest musicians in Branson. It is composed of  Michael W. Davis, Piano/Keyboard & Vocals; Wayne Massengale, Fiddle and Acoustic Guitar; Larry Allred, Bass Guitar; Rob Blackburn, Drums; David Creech, Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar and Gene Mulvaney, Steel Guitar, Electric Guitar, Banjo and Band Director.

These guys are not just great musicians, they are consummate showman. Whether it’s a musical feature like Gene Mulvaney on the steel guitar with Jackie Brown in “There Goes My Heart Again,” Wayne Massengale’s fiddle feature with New South as they performed “Play Me Mountain Music” or the band playing a number like “Pick It Apart,” their musicianship and showmanship add yet another delightful element to the show.

"Jim Dandy" and Mike Patrick during the "magic banana" skit.

“Jim Dandy” and Mike Patrick during the “magic banana” skit.

“Jim Dandy,” played by Jamie Haage, one of Branson’s best comedians, along with “straight man” Mike Patrick, kept me laughing throughout the show with a blend of comedy skits and one liners. It can be safely said, “No dark comedy here, just “orange comedy” and who wouldn’t want to know how funny and magical a banana can be? The comedy just flows in with the music at exactly the right time as the show seamlessly moves from one entertaining segment to the next.

Watching the metamorphosis of Haage from comedian to instrumentalist and vocalist is a special treat to see and hear. His playing of the banjo, steel guitar, drums, piano and fiddle, especially his “train duet” of the “Wabash Cannonball” and ” Orange Blossom Special” with Wayne Massengale, was a joy to experience, not only testifying as to the versatility and talents of this “grand” entertainer, but as yet another thing that makes the Grand Jubilee unique among Branson shows.

It would be impossible to write about the Grand Jubilee without mentioning its Director and Producer Mike Patrick. Not only is he responsible for producing this “grand” entertainment experience, that just might be two of the best and fastest moving hours of entertainment in Branson, but he is also Emcee, Jim Dandy’s straight man and even plays a mean honky-tonk piano version of “Balls of Fire” with “fire” coming out of the piano.

In a previous review of the Grand Jubilee I said, “It might seem like a cliché, but the Grand Jubilee is truly ‘grand’ entertainment. I laughed until I hurt, listened to some of the most talented musicians and vocalists I have ever heard, in Branson or anywhere else, and was thoroughly entertained by a fast moving production that held my interest throughout. It was over all too quickly.” Isn’t it wonderful that some things never change except to get better!

For additional information or tickets on the Grand Jubilee show contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

How do the Hughes’ kids do “it?”

The beautiful and touching  conclusion performance of the whole family performance of  “So Happy Together.”

The beautiful and touching conclusion of the whole family performance of  “So Happy Together.”

Simply put, “it’s a miracle,” but more on that later. Earlier this year, right after seeing it starring the Hughes Brothers and their families, I wrote a review of the show for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) in which I said, “The Hughes Family is billed as the largest family performing together on stage. The Hughes Brothers, Marty, Jason, Adam, Ryan and Andy are the stars of the show which also prominently features their very talented wives Cindy, Vikki, Carina, Mara and Becky along with about 32* of their children…”

The ages of the children range from toddler to age 21 and I was absolutely amazed by their performance in the show. So much so that I wrote, “Every element of this show is a polished entertainment gem. It’s not just a matter of putting kids in a show. These kids are good!” In fact they were so good that I decided to see if I could get the answer to the question, “How do the Hughes’ kids do “it?”

Recently, two of the Hughes Brothers and their wives, Marty and Cindy along with Jason and Mara, were kind enough to sit down with me to explain the kids’ involvement in the show. In talking about the kids in the show, Jason, the show’s producer, said that from the brothers, our wives down to the youngest child, people coming to our show are not going to see a family trying to put on a show; they are going to see a real top notch professional show with children that are as good as any child in the business and the miracle of it is that they are all in one family.

We used a question and answer format for the interview with this writer asking the questions for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) and one or more of the Hughes Family (HF) members answering. Except for the last question, the answer are not specifically identified as to a specific person, but to the group as a whole and are designated by the HF:

BTC: How do you get them to do it?
HF: The kids just want to do it. They just naturally want to be like daddy and mommy and then there is the “peer pressure” of seeing their brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles all performing.

BTC: At what age do you start them?
HF: Some have started in the womb as their mothers performed, and many if not all, have performed in the Nativity scene from their Christmas show which features a live baby Jesus each year.

BTC: How do you prepare the younger children so that there is a consistent level of performance in the show?
HF: Particularly, with the younger children, whether or not they perform on any given day is up to them. That’s why we double or triple cast their parts.

BTC: How do they progress to the amazing performance levels that the audience sees in the show?
HF: From an early age they feel at home on stage. By the time they are 4 or 5 they are ready to go and as they grow older we try to up the ante as to the difficulty of what they are doing. It’s interesting the way the progression works. We have younger kids coming into numbers while older kids are graduating out.

BTC: Is there flexibility for the kids to do the things other kids get to do?
HF: Absolutely. We are extremely flexible and modify schedules etc. so that the kids can take time off to go to camps, do things they want to do and participate in other activities with their friends.

BTC: What kind of commitment do the kids make to the show?
HF: They just want to do it and be up on the stage with the rest of the family. Especially with the older ones, they know we are counting on each other. Obviously, particularly with the younger children, there are some challenges occasionally and that’s why we multiple cast some of the parts and have some scheduling flexibility.

BTC: What is one of the biggest challenges of involving the kids in the show?
HF: Coordinating schedules and consistency. With 34 kids in the show sometimes it just seems like there’s something different every day from someone having to go potty to changing a diaper to needing different kids at rehearsal for different parts at different times. Jason said, “With all that, there’s just not quite anything like finally getting the kids in the car, getting to the theater and picking up your four year old only to realize they are not wearing any shoes.”

BTC: Do the kids rehearse a lot?
HF: We are so proud of the effort our kids put into not only preparing, but performing. The amount of time spent depends on what they are doing in the show. Even just having the kids walk out on stage requires rehearsals for blocking and where they are going to stand etc. As their involvement in the show increases so does the rehearsal time.

BTC: There are 34 kids in the show now. How many children do each of you have in the show?

Marty and Cindy – 13
Jason and Mara – 7
Adam and Vikki – 3
Ryan and Carina – 7
Andy and Becky – 4

BTC: How are the kids schooled?
HF: They are home schooled with tutors used on a supplemental basis.

BTC: In about a sentence, what one thing would you want people to know about the kids appearing in the show?

Marty: They are better for it because they are learning a work ethic.
Cindy:  The kids really love what they are doing!
Myra:  They love each other and working together with their aunts and uncles and being able to run up to Grandma’s office.
Jason: They are really good and the miracle of it is that they are all in one family.

How good is this show? Well my opinion is in the review that I wrote, but yesterday, April 7, 2015, I was having breakfast with my good friend Arlan who, along with his wife Linda, has seen many Branson shows over the years. As we were eating breakfast he asked if I had seen “it’ with the Hughes Brothers?” It was a rhetorical question because he continued on by telling me that he and Linda had seen it for the first time recently and really liked it. He said the show was one of the best he has ever seen in Branson, he is going to recommend it to others and commented on how amazing the kids were. We had a chuckle when I told him I had seen it, felt the same way and was actual in the midst of doing a piece on the kids.

“it” starring the Hughes Brothers is a rare Branson entertainment gem, “hidden in plain sight” that simultaneously holds the interest and entertains both children and adults at a constant level throughout the show with some of the finest entertainment on any Branson stage. It is an absolutely wonderful unique Branson entertainment experience that should not be missed.

 * The actual number could fluctuate by a couple performance to performance.

Material Connection

Spirit of the Dance is a beautiful breathtaking high energy entertainment experience for the whole family

Lead Female Irish Dancer  Courtney Collins

Lead Irish Dancer Courtney Collins performing a traditional soft shoe Irish Stepdance number.

Spirit of the Dance Encore Performance brings the Spirit of the Dance back to the Branson stage with two hours of unique breathtaking non-stop high energy entertainment that the whole family will enjoy. As I watched the performance on March 17, I was totally immersed in the precision of their Irish dancing. It was joy to see and hear that was made even more so because of the beautiful vocals, colorful costuming and other styles of dance that are delicately woven into this unique exciting entertainment experience.

From beginning to end the “Spirit” of the show is in the hearts, professional passion and talents of its dancers and vocalists and, what a great job they do! The Lead Irish Dancers, Courtnay Collins and Oliver Barrows head an exceptional cast of dancers including Jacqui Bell, Rebecca Jennings, Ellen Tress, Devan Jay Kellett, Beth Leanne, Peri Walsham, Joe Farmer, Davide Leo, Blair Muir, Rowan Lewis and Mitchell Jare. Dasha Toropkina, who plays the part of the “Spirit,” does vocals and dances.

The very first number, “Irish Love,” demonstrates that this show is not just a reproduction of “Riverdance,” but that it has a direction and excitement of its own. Its haze, lilting mystical Celtic music with a subtle blending of Danny Boy introduces the “Spirit,” performed by Dasha Toropkina, who performed beautifully here and throughout the show. It is a breathtaking experience as they transition from the “gentleness” of the opening introduction into Irish performance dancing with an explosion of sound as their feet hit the stage in a mind boggling demonstration of speed and precision. It’s a magnificent thing to experience.

“Irish performance dancing” or “Stepdancing” as it is commonly called, was made popular by “Riverdance,” over two decades ago and is a style of dance incorporating precise quick movements of the feet with a stiff upper body and the arms held fairly close to the sides. The wonderful thing about Spirit of the Dance is that it takes Stepdancing and weaves it in with other styles of dance such as the Spanish Flamingo, Waltz, American Western, Scottish Fling, Rock and Roll and more into a beautiful and exciting entertainment experience.

The "Stomp" is just one of the many styles of dance in the show.

The “Stomp” is just one of the many styles of dance in the show.

And it’s not just what they do, but how they do it. The performers are outstanding and their costuming is amazing, not only as to its color and variety, but in how often it is changed. The choreography of each number and the way each flows seamlessly from one to the other are other factors that make this show a must see.

Some might have a question about whether or not kids would like this show. During the intermission I picked a couple with two young boys, the Mike Neff family visiting from Oklahoma. When asked if he would recommend the show to others he said, “Absolutely, it’s a good family show, high energy, lots of costume changes and great lighting. Neff said his boys, who are seven and six years old were having a great time and particularly liked the “quick feet” and colorful costumes.

There’s not a lot of vocals in the show, but they are all original and strategically placed to enhance a special moment of the show. Most are performed by Dasha Toropkina, as “The Spirit” and one by Lead Irish Dancer Courtnay Collins.

Typically, when I write about a show, and while fully realizing that my “highlights”  might not be the same as others, I mention a few of my favorites. The “Two Tribes” number with its blending of soft toe Irish dance into an explosion of powerful precision hard shoe Stepdancing amid its costume changes and everything else in between was a beautiful and powerful way to end the first half of the show.

Another personal highlight was the opening of the second half of the show right after intermission. The “Spirit,” Dasha Toropkina, wows the audience as she sings “Coming Home,” as part of a full cast performance including a powerful Stepdance number. It was an amazing way to start the second half. Another favorite number for me was the full cast performance of the number “The Spirit of the Dance,” featuring Courtnay Collins who did a a superb job of dancing and performing the vocal.

Spirit of the Dance is a unique one of a kind show. It is filled with excitement, high energy, color, action, Irish dance and vocals performed superbly by a cast that has a passion for what they are doing. It is a show that the whole family can share and enjoy together.

For additional information or tickets for Spirit of the Dance Encore Performance, or for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please feel free to contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services  by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

9th Annual Elvis Festival will positively rock Branson with amazing entertainment

Finalists gather at 2014 "Branson Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest."

Finalists gather at 2014 “Branson Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest.”

“The annual ‘Branson Elvis® Festival’ offers another unique and exciting activity for all Branson visitors, but especially for Elvis fans,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. The 9th Annual Branson Elvis® Festival will take place March 27 – 29, 2015, at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, the home of Branson’s Legends in Concert Show on the world famous “Branson Strip.”

The highlight of the Festival is the Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest™ which will be held on the Legends in Concert stage, Saturday, March 28 starting at 7:00 PM. The winner of the Branson contest receives a prize package and the opportunity to compete in the “2015 Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest™ Finals” presented by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. which will be held August 8  -16 in Memphis, Tennessee during Elvis Week.

Legends in Concert’s General Manager, Jeannie Horton said that the Branson Contest will be hosted by “Dean Z,” who won the “2013 Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest™ Final.” in Memphis. “We are really excited about the quality of the 16 contestants and the fact that it’s the most contestants that we have ever had. It’s going to be a great evening of entertainment!” she added.

In addition, to the Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest™ the Branson Elvis Festival includes several other exciting events including:

Friday, March 27 – 5 PM: Elvis Meet & Greet Dinner at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill. Call the box office (417-339-3003) for reservations as “family style seating” is limited.

Friday, March 27 & 28 –  10:15 PM: Elvis Contestant Karaoke at Club 57. Tickets for both nights are available at the Legends box office and are $5 plus tax. Limited space available!

Saturday, March 28 9 AM to 4 PM: The Elvis Vendor Village will be open in Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater lobby.  Vendors from across the country will be selling unique Elvis merchandise.”

Saturday, March 28 – 10 AM: A new event, the Junior and Senior Youth Division Contest, for kids (ages 5-18). It will be held on the Legends in Concert stage and a $25 entry fee and registration is required. Call 417-339-3003 x 3015 to request more information on this event, or email tbailey@legendsinconcert.com.

Saturday, March 28 7:00PM: The Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest

Sunday, March 29 – 10 AM: Free Branson Gospel Sunday Service will be held at the Hamner Variety Theater featuring some of Elvis’ favorite gospel numbers.

Sunday, March 29 – 8 PM: Guest appearance of the 2015 Branson Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest™ winner during the 8 PM performance of Legends in Concert Show.

For additional information or tickets for the Legends in Concert Show, The Ultimate Elvis® Tribute Artist Contest,™ or any of Branson’s other shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please feel free to contact the Branson Tourism Center (BTC), one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling their toll free number 1-800-785-1550 or through their web site www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

Mickey Gilley gives Branson 26 years of amazing memories

Music legend Mickey Gilley.

Music legend Mickey Gilley.

“Bob Hope’s theme song, ‘Thanks for the Memories,’ comes to mind when one thinks of all that Mickey Gilley has meant to Branson and its visitors over the past 25 years,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. Wood made the comment in connection with Gilley’s recent announcement that 2015 will be his last season performing at his Branson theatre. Gilley indicated that he plans to continue doing road shows and will maintain his Branson residence.

In connection with his 25th year in Branson Gilley sat down for an exclusive interview with the Branson Tourism Center and shared an up close and personal interview about his career and his first 25 years in Branson. The interview was conducted on Aug. 16, 2014 and used a “Question and Answer” format with Branson Tourism Center’s questions preceded by “BTC” and Gilley’s responses preceded by “MG:”

BTC: What is your favorite childhood memory?
MG: Telling my sister that I was not going to go to the back of the house while she was sweeping and cleaning the front room floors. I grabbed the door and shook it and she ran after me. The race was on, and I outran her.

BTC: Of all the professional moments and performances you have had, which has meant the most to you?
MG: When I met Conway Twitty in 1974 and opened a show for him in my night club in Pasadena, TX.

BTC: What was one of the “highs” of your life and one of the “lows?”
MG: High in my life was in 1974 when “Room Full of Roses” hit and went to Number 1 for me. The “low” [with a grin] was trying to follow my cousin Jerry Lee Lewis for 17 years before I had the hit.

BTC: Of all the hits you have had which one is your personal favorite and why?
MG: That’s a hard one to answer because my fans have given me 17 top ten songs. I will say that “Room Full of Roses” has a special place in my heart, “Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time” was the best song ever given to me and that my favorite recording and one of my favorite records is “That’s All That Matters To Me.”

BTC: What one song do you enjoy performing the most?
MG: “Stand By Me,” a beautiful song, from the soundtrack of “The Urban Cowboy.” I am using to close my show this year.

BTC: Do you have a little known fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
MG: In 1959 I had a chart record, “Is It Wrong For Loving You,” that Kenny Rogers played the base on. Also, probably a lot of people don’t know that I had a Commercial Pilot and Instrument Ratings and have flown my airplane for over 8,000 hours. I am also in the process of bringing Gilley’s Beer back on the market.

BTC: If you could perform on stage with any other performer, living or dead, who would it be?
MG: Elvis Presley because he was always one of my favorites.

BTC: What is your favorite part in your current Branson show?
MG: When we do the music from the soundtrack of “Urban Cowboy” because it has some great music in it.

BTC: Was your first trip to Branson, business or pleasure?
MG: My first trip to Branson was in 1987 when I played for Mr. Jim Thomas at the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre.

BTC: What was your first impression of Branson?
MG: Was wondering what was going on in this little town that I had never heard of.

BTC: In what year did you open your own theatre?
MG: Jim Thomas opened the “Mickey Gilley Theatre” in 1989 and in 1990 I it took over.

BTC: Where and when were you born?
MG: I was born in Natchez, MS on March 9, 1936.

BTC: What relationship is Jerry Lee Lewis to you?
MG: First Cousin.

BTC: What relationship is Jimmy Swaggart?
MG: Second Cousin.

BTC: Did either, separately or together, have any influence on your decision to become an entertainer?
MG: Jerry Lee Lewis.

BTC: How?
MG: He played piano, sang and had “hits” in the 50’s. I was making $1.25 per hour doing construction work and when I saw the kind of money he was making I thought, “If he can do it I can too” and decided to jump in. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that everyone was going to compare me to my cousin Jerry Lee Lewis. Actually, although I didn’t think about it at the time, in essence, what I was doing was performing a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis and I was successful because I could do his music.

BTC: How long have you been performing professionally?
MG: Since 1957.

BTC: Where and when did you make your first professional appearance?
MG: That’s hard to pinpoint, but the first successful run I had in a “nightclub” was at The “Nesadel Club”, located on Spencer Highway in Pasadena Texas from 1960 to 1970. I worked six nights a week, did four sets a night and played piano, organ and sang along with a little three piece band.

BTC: When did “Gilley’s open?
MG: In 1971. I had decided to throw in the towel as far as recording goes and a partner and I started “Gilley’s,” a honkytonk bar located on Spencer Highway not too far from the “Nesadel Club.” In the first month in business with him I made more money than I had made since I had been in the music business period.

BTC: How did you get back in the recording business?
MG: In 1973 the lady who had the juke boxes in the club wanted me to record the song, “She Called Me Baby All-Night Long.” I told her I had not made a record in three and a half to four years, but I went in and made the recording for her putting “Room Full of Roses” on the flip, “B,” side. It took off locally in the Houston area in 1973 and became my first national hit in 1974.

BTC: What made you decide to open a theatre in Branson?
MG: My friend Jim Thomas thought it would be a good mix with those who were already performing here and I was ready to get off the road.

BTC: Anything else you want our readers to know?
MG: I would like them to know that Branson has some great entertainers and shows, we have a lot of wonderful people who are trying very hard to please the people who come to Branson and with all the great things it has to offer is a great place to come to vacation. I would like to invite everyone, “To come and see us.”

Click here for information, scheduling, pricing and tickets for Mickey Gilley’s 2015 Branson show or call 1-800-785-1550. Branson Tourism Center’s Wood suggests advance reservations to ensure availability and the best seats for the final Branson performances of the Mickey Gilley show.

 

Shoji Tabuchi fiddling around with Bigfoot?

The incredible Shoji Tabuchi during a non Bigfoot moment.

The incredible Shoji Tabuchi during a non Bigfoot moment.

If you asked ten people in Branson the question, “Of all the Branson entertainers which, group or entertainer, is least likely to be involved with the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot?” I’m betting it would be Branson’s master violinist and fiddle player, “Shoji Tabuchi.” Yet, earlier this week when I talked with him about a rumor that he was going to be a guest on the show, he confirmed the rumor, but said he could not discuss any of the specific details.

Tabuchi said that he is excited about being on the show and is really looking forward to it. He explained that he has an open mind about the existence of a “Sasquatch” or “Bigfoot” as well as UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster and, with a twinkle in his eye, asked, “Who knows?”

What skill set does Shoji have that could be of interest to Bigfoot’s investigative Team? Don’t know for sure, but one of the cast members and founders of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization is a recognized authority on “Bigfoot” and is noted for his innovative use of sound “as a technique for locating Bigfoots.”

On March 6, there was a “Finding Bigfoot” meeting at the White House Theatre in Branson, which it could be presumed, was as a preamble to the Ozark’s area filming of material for Finding Bigfoot. Cliff Barackman, one of the co-hosts of the show was present as people shared information about seeing what they believed were sasquatch foot prints, an actual Bigfoot or other evidence that could assist the Investigative Team in deciding what areas to look for a potential Ozark’s Bigfoot. Could it be that the “Blue Man of Spring Creek” actually existed?”

The team consists of James “BoBo” Fray, a commercial fisherman by trade, who says he saw his first sasquatch in 2001; Cliff Barackman who analyses and interprets data, especially those related to Bigfoot footprints and owns one of the largest Bigfoot cast collection in the country; Matt Moneymaker who has been involved actively in Bigfoot research since the 1990s, launched the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website as well as being a very respected Bigfoot Researcher and Ranae Holland, a research biologist who, although she does not believe in Bigfoot, co-hosts of the show and is “fascinated by the phenomenon and excited to have found a way to combine her scientific knowledge, fieldwork skills, and love of the wilderness to investigate alleged sightings.”

Although there has been no announced date as to when the episode with Shoji will air on Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, Sasquatches aside, we do know one thing for sure; the 2015 season for the Shoji Tabuchi Show in Branson kicks off on April 17.