DREAMSCAPES Fall/Winter 2017
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BRANSON GLITZ
 
(2016 - Fall Issue)

Writer: RENA GODFREY



It’s only the beginning of November but it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas here in Branson, Missouri. When the weather turns cold, and the summer crowds retreat, Branson transforms into a Christmas wonderland.

In the distance, the rugged Ozark Mountains look like a perfectly manicured golf course. The intoxicating scent of hot toddies leads me to an enclave of shops selling maple syrup-infused candles and cutesy knick-knacks for the house. Outside, a giant six-metre-tall Christmas tree is loaded with crimson ornaments. If you’re looking for more Christmas paraphernalia, an endless selection of baubles awaits across the laneway at Kringles Christmas Shop, the largest store of its kind in Missouri.

Earlier in the day I saw tap-dancing reindeer and fairy princesses doing the splits on stage. But beyond the quirky jolliness and festivities, Branson, a town of only 10,000 residents, offers a smorgasbord of family-friendly live entertainment and undeniably top-notch talent.

Locals say Branson became recognized as an entertainment hub when CBS’s 60 Minutes came to town back in 1991. Today, more than seven million folks make the trek to Branson each year where there are more than 100 shows from which to choose, all at surprisingly affordable prices.

Classic acts such as Johnny Mathis, Neil Sedaka and the Osmonds (minus Donny and Marie) fill the seats, and country greats like the Oak Ridge Boys and Wynonna Judd also perform here. If tribute shows are your thing, then Branson is your scene; Elvis, the Carpenters and ABBA are among the long list of musicians represented. There are also showstoppers such as the Acrobats of China, the Presleys’ Country Jubilee (no relation to Elvis), and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a horse and buffalo extravaganza. Heck, even Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady in the popular ’70s sitcom The Brady Bunch, has a variety show in Branson.

STARSTRUCK

This chilly fall evening, I squeeze past a caravan of buses blocking the entrance to the Moon River Theater, home of the beloved Andy Williams Christmas Show. The lights dim, but before the curtains rise, U.S. military veterans seated in the audience are asked to stand and be recognized. I’m moved by the love in the room and find out this is a regular occurrence in Branson.

After the applause, Jimmy Osmond enters with older brothers Jay and Merrill. The Lennon sisters glide on stage in their slinky red dresses. Together, they present a heartfelt tribute to Williams, who passed away a few years ago. I sing along to One Bad Apple and ABC, It’s Easy as 123, while black-and-white clips of their younger selves and Williams are projected on jumbo video screens. The second half of the show is devoted to a well-crafted arrangement of Christmas jingles that remind me of the television specials I stayed up late to watch when I was a kid.

The next morning after gulping down a bacon, egg and biscuit breakfast at Clockers Café in downtown Branson, I catch Dublin’s Irish Tenors and the Celtic Ladies at the King’s Castle Theatre. Amazed by countless costume changes, we are dazzled with Danny Boy, then an eclectic mix of hits by Glen Miller, Leonard Cohen and Adele. After the show, I join the lineup of grey-haired groupies to meet these young stars in shimmering gowns and black tuxedos.

I get used to feeling star-struck in Branson and it’s no different at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner where all the servers get to sing and sell their CDs. In between filling salt and pepper shakers and carrying our oversized cheeseburgers, Stephanie picks up the microphone and effortlessly croons I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. I ask for a chocolate sundae just to hear Larry, the cook, serenade the couple next to our table.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Tonight I’m in for a treat at the Shoji Tabuchi Show. Famous for his 26-year fiddling variety show, Japanese-born Tabuchi, now over 70, looks super youthful in his jet black hair and decadent sequined blazers. “Do you want to hear the polka?” Tabuchi beckons the eager audience. Daughter Christina, a versatile performer, whirls around the stage in elaborate outfits belting out rock ’n’ roll tunes while her father fiddles away nearby.

Equally impressive is the ladies’ bathroom in the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre. I duck out minutes before intermission to grab a coveted seat in this spacious restroom, decorated with gold carved mirrors and purple crystal chandeliers. Word has it that the men’s room has a pool table, but I guess I’ll never really know.

A few days into my trip I understand why Branson is known for being one of the entertainment capitals in America. Aside from the spectacular shows, there are water parks, zip-lining excursions, great shopping and a remarkable Titanic museum (owned by John Joslyn, co-leader of the 1987 expedition that recovered artifacts from the ocean floor).

 At sunset, I drive to Table Rock Lake to board the Showboat Branson Belle, a romantic gleaming white riverboat, and enjoy a perfectly prepared steak. Funny man, Christopher James, primes the audience with his clever magic acts before introducing Janice Martin, an aerial violinist, who plays violin while hanging from aerial silks high above the speechless dinner guests.

GOOD OLE TIMES

My last day in Branson, I visit Silver Dollar City, an 1800s theme park. Originally built around historic Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City is also well-known for being the backdrop of several Beverly Hillbillies’ episodes.

With freezing temperatures outside, I take a rain check on Outlaw Run—a wooden roller coaster—and warm up inside a 19th-century-looking cabin, drinking apple cider and eating freshly baked peanut butter cookies. Enticed by the bluegrass music playing in the next room, I pull up a chair chuckling along with the gruff-looking guys in denim overalls who play their banjos and share silly jokes about the Hill people of Missouri.

Filled to the brim with Christmas cheer, I snuggle up to friends under the gazebo to keep warm and shout “hello” to Rudolph and Santa as they pass us by in an impressive parade glowing with millions of lights.

Travel Planner:

Trivago.com recently named Branson the Best Value City in America for 2016.

American Airlines (aa.com) offers service from Toronto to Springfield, Missouri.

Branson is less than an hour’s drive from the Springfield airport.

For accommodation, consider the Hilton Branson conveniently located in the heart of downtown Branson (conventioncenter.hiltonsofbranson.com).

For more information, visit:Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: ExploreBranson.com

Silver Dollar City: silverdollarcity.com

The Grand Village Shops: grandvillageshops.com

 
 
 
 
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