The first night I attended a dinner show in Branson, Missouri, I knew this was as different a place culturally as I have ever been to. As I was enjoying a pre-show dinner consisting of tender sirloin tips and a skinless chicken breast with a tasty baked potato at the Magnificent Variety Show, cover songs of some classic rock songs were blaring out of the loudspeakers. One in particular was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I was waiting for my favorite line from the song to be crooned out, the one about Beelzebub having a devil for a son, and alas, the lyrics were changed instead to referring to the song as being “a hoot”. Should I be surprised the devil’s minions were struck down in song since this locale is not only nestled in the Ozarks, but also in the Bible Belt?
The feeling I got as I visited this entertainment mecca was one of being transported back to a different time period. Sure, I saw lots of people talking on their cell phones, and the internet is alive and well here, but there is this sense of old fashioned values that emanates out of Branson, where the locals are generally polite and will ask you “Where you from?” Each attraction that’s narrated or live show will basically pay homage to our troops and veterans.
Branson entertainment is definitely not Las Vegas fare, as the live music shows that have been entertaining visitors since 1959 are aimed at a more conservative values-oriented audience. But that’s okay, for that’s the neat aspect of travel: being able to find cultural differences than the ones you’re used to, and still have a good time.
My first live music show in Branson at The Osmonds Theatre was still a memorable experience as the musical troupe led by husband and wife team Joe and Tamra Tinoco made more than 300 costume changes during 90 minutes of performing parts of some of the most memorable pop hits by decade in vignettes, beginning with the 1940’s and running all the way through today for the first half of their act, in which they dressed in the styles of each decade and impersonated the musical performers the best they could, which was quite good! Since I grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, my favorite covers that they did were when they imitated Michael Jackson’s Thriller video with all those ghoulish/zombie-like costumes and when they got into various uniforms to play the Village People while crooning out Y.M.C.A.
This Magnificent Variety troupe encouraged audience participation, too, as they came off stage sometimes to sing a slow love song to one of the ladies, and for one 1970’s vignette, they got some of the audience members to go back stage with them to put on some wacky-looking wigs and then they all danced before the audience.
In the second half their act following an intermission, the show consisted of full renditions of songs from various Broadway plays like Funny Girl, The Phantom of the Opera, and more, and ended with a patriotic tribute to America’s veterans and then to America itself. The only thing missing that night without Beelzebub and his devilish son was apple pie: after all, chocolate cake was served! Nonetheless, the audience made up of primarily middle-aged folks and senior citizens enjoyed themselves.
The Civil War “Re-enacted” at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede
As I walked to the entrance of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede from the parking lot, Palominos and Quarter horses were next to the sidewalk to be admired. These horses would be used during a 90 minute show that takes place in a 35,000 square foot arena, with its staging area being about as large as a basketball or hockey arena in my estimation.
I was greeted at the door by young ladies dressed in Southern Belle costumes and taken to the pre-show area, where hundreds of other guests and I could got snacks like popcorn and peanuts plus soft drinks in a commemorative cup. We then got to watch the opening act of our live show experience, a comedian juggler and musician named David Lucas. He entertained us with his juggling of various items like 7 rings, 3 large knives, and golf balls which he spit out of his mouth. I really enjoyed it when he juggled some tambourines to the soundtrack of Arabic music, which created a pleasant harmony. He referred to himself as an “Oriental Redneck” and got lots of laughs talking about his life and show business family. He’s performed before the Queen of England and U.S. Presidents.
We were then ushered into the arena that seats 1,100 people by a Confederate and Union soldier, who determined which side of the arena we would be sitting on: The North or South side. I was put in the North, and after we were all seated, it was explained to us that we would be helping to re-enact The Civil War as each course of finger food was served to us over the next hour by Union or Confederate soldiers (depending on which side we were on). This included a fluffy biscuit, creamy soup (the bowl had a handle), corn-on-the-cob, refills on coffee and Pepsi, a small but complete rotisserie chicken that was super tender and tasty, plus a large and succulent pastry dessert that reminded me of a Pillsbury fruit turnover.
My side’s job was to stomp our feet at designated times and cheer positively at the Union soldier performers in the arena, and boo the Confederate side, who would be determining the fate of the Civil War not by violent means, but by various competitions with the stable horses and other farm animals like little racing pigs dressed in Civil War uniforms. In between competitions were comedy skits. Some audience members were used to perform silly things like ride a broomstick horse.
Before the Civil War competition began, energetic singing and period piece costumes and real animals like Texas Longhorns made up a show that focused on the history of America before the Civil War; for instance, we got to hear the players act like pioneers and sing campfire songs and see Southern Belles come down from on high! The Stampede really has this ability to get the audience involved and uses energetic music and great staging to make for a memorable experience.
Unbelievable Abilities Showcased by the Acrobats of China
If you see only one live show in Branson, it’s gotta be this show which is part of The New Shanghai Circus. We were instructed by the Master of Ceremonies how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Chinese before the show began so we could communicate with these stars at the end of the show if we chose to, as they would be on hand for autographs and picture taking.
I’ve never been more impressed with an acrobatic troupe over the course of two hours (including a short intermission), who used pulsating music and various special effects lighting to help underscore their feats of illusion, drumming, and Chinese storytelling (with one act employing ballet-like moves). I saw things by these gifted performers that I still don’t understand how it could be done. One of the acts involved a girl who stood on top of her head while twirling a four-legged table in the air while another group of young women twirled several plates in the air using long sticks! The guys in the troupe jumped through stacked hoops and caught each other in the air with their feet after they were thrust upwards, as if effortlessly.
I visited China in 2000, and watching the Acrobats of China made me feel like I was back in that enchanted land. Beware: the smell of buttered popcorn in the 1,000 seat arena was so overwhelming that I had to get some for myself, even though I try to stay away from food with a lot of saturated fat.
Note: Photos of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and Acrobats of China were taken with permission by the respective attractions. All photos by Roy A. Barnes.
Roy’s first Branson article at Bootsnall.com
Biography: Roy A. Barnes writes from southeastern Wyoming and is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com.