Branson, Missouri | This is middle America.
Branson, located firmly in the “Bible-Belt” is a place where patriotism, family and God are celebrated daily.
It may not be Broadway, but the theaters lining the town’s main street are large and comfortable and there is quite a variety of entertainment – from Andy Williams to the Osmond Family - to be found.
Finding the traditional Christmas spirit on Route 76 is easy.
The Branson Variety Theater presents the “Spirit of Christmas,” a two-hour production filled with explosions of Christmas colors, images and verve.
The show started out on a patriotic note by recognizing an audience made up of veterans from World War II to present. Prior to the show, each of the Armed Services seals were displayed while their service anthems played.
Veterans in the audience were asked to stand and be recognized by those in the audience.
“The salute to the service men and women is something we do before every show,” said Dannell Tennison, General Manager, Branson Variety Theater. “I think it is important that we recognize our service personnel all year long, not just on Veterans’ Day.”
And it was a heartwarming way to remind us of the importance of family and the service of so many.
During the show, a cast of more than twenty youthful singer/dancers, led by New York theater veteran Sarah Hanlon and Brian Walker, brought to this productions stage from the cast of the popular Twelve Irish Tenors show, kept a decidedly older audience’s attention through two hours of Christmas themed song and dance.
While a bevy of beauties kept a high-stepping pace as they stepped, kicked, and twirled through their numbers Ms. Hanlon charmingly channeled Betty Boop as she teased the audience, and the hapless gent brought on stage, through “Santa Baby.”
Mr. Walker’s smooth and sonorous rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” left me wanting to go back to the theater and catch the Twelve Irish Tenors tomorrow!
Together the duo played well while individually each was able to hold audience attention through their numbers.
Cast Manager Mark Middleton was the able core to this “Big Apple” style production, stepping forward to perform the Disney song “Be Our Guest” (Beauty and the Beast.)
I personally enjoyed the dance ensemble performing a “hand-jive” type rhythmic clap routine to the ever-increasing speeds of “Jingle Bells.”
Performer “Zippy” (Jonathan Stanford) was in-charge of audience participation and he had quite a bit of fun “playing” with the guys he brought up on stage.
With the feel of a televised variety show intermingling ensemble dance numbers that ranged from tap, to “Broadway Rock” to a series of five – count them five – Rockette-style chorus lines with solo performances and duets by Ms. Hanlon and Mr. Walker, the show propelled the Christmas spirit forward and center.
Executive Producer David King set a fast paced mood from the opening “Happy Holidays-Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Need A Little Christmas” opening number to the sentimental closing, “White Christmas.”
The shows only disappointment was the taped soundtrack during the ensemble performances.
However with Branson being a bus-tour destination, keeping the performance financially accessible ($29.95 ticket price) and the shows schedule - which can include up to three performances a day - supporting anything more would have driven the production costs higher.
That effect would be to lessen its accessibility to the members of the audience that had traveled from Texas, Florida, Illinois, Utah and all states in between to spend a long weekend enjoying stage shows in what is nothing short of a fully wholesome and good for the whole family environment.
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