Broadway of Branson presents Disney’s Little Mermaid

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Broadway of Branson had a VIP gala and premiere of Disney’s Little Mermaid at the White House Theatre this past Friday night. This was a Broadway stage production of the original 1989 animated feature movie. I was fortunate enough to have my friend, Randy Plummer escort me to the show and we arrived at the theatre just as the rain started coming down.

The lobby was buzzing with conversation and the sound of excited kids and adults who were anxious to see Ariel, Sebastian and Scuttle. There was at least one adorable girl dressed as her favorite mermaid and I saw many others with Ariel hair clips and bows. I even saw an adorable set of sisters that had on Little Mermaid flip flops.

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We found our seats in the fairly large theatre and within minutes the music that we’re all familiar with filled the room and the lights dimmed. There was a lengthy delay without lights or music and I had to remind myself that this was opening night. Unfortunately, I kept having to remind myself of that fact, numerous times throughout the performance.

There were many, many positives in this show produced by Country Club Entertainment. But there were also many awkward moments during the night as microphone after microphone malfunctioned and timing between stage crew, actors, and lighting was out of sync more often than not. Even when the the actor’s microphones were on, there was a low hum and the occasional annoying screech of audio feedback. So, yeah, it was opening night. There were technical difficulties, I understand that.

What I don’t understand was a Broadway production without live music. We live in the “live entertainment” capital of the world and yet there wasn’t a musical instrument in the house. What I also didn’t quite get was the mermaid costuming and the fact that not everyone even had shoes. Quite a few of the characters including Ariel and Flounder were wearing tennis shoes with the roller balls in the bottom. I agree that it is a creative idea to make the mermaids and fish appear to be swimming rather than walking, but in reality, it didn’t work. I was also a little disturbed to see the undergarments of a few of the mermaids as their “tails” had apparently ripped enough of their costume to see beneath.

What really saved the show from being a disaster was the professional and talented performers that graced the stage. I would love at this point to give accolades to the performers and mention a few stand out actors who turned a mediocre production into an entertaining show. But, I can’t, because there was no program for the evening’s performance and when I asked for a listing of the cast, it was not made available. What a shame because they really do deserve all the credit.

The young woman that played Ariel was beautiful, acted well and sang with a voice that was perfectly suited for the famous Disney mermaid. Another actor that really stood out was the man who played Sebastian the crustacean sidekick and mentor. He played the role perfectly with a wonderful energy on stage and he displayed a powerful, but artful voice. One more actor that I thought was exceptional was the young man playing the chef that makes the romantic dinner for Ariel and Prince Eric. That particular scene was also one of the most polished and entertaining segments of the show. All of the cast actually did a fine job and it was their human contribution that made the show not a complete disaster.

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A couple of other things that I want to mention that I liked very much were the LED screen and graphics that were used in the background. The scene where Prince Eric is thrown into the ocean and Ariel rescues him was brought to life with the help of technology. The next scene where the prince is being tended to on a beach, had moving ocean waves behind him that while not completely believable, did add a very nice visual effect. They used the LED screen and special effects during the dining room scene that gave the set depth and color. There were many colorful acts and I know that the kids in the audience probably enjoyed the bright colors.

One last mention is about costuming, once again. I have to say that as bad as the mermaid costumes were, Ursula was magnificent. She was bigger than life, scary, menacing and as villainous as any Disney character out there. The actress playing the part did an excellent job, even when she had no microphone and the stage hands who operated her tendrils were the most understated members of the troupe.

I still got teary-eyed at the end because mostly I’m just a big mushy-hearted softie. But the tears also told me that there was enough magic in this production to touch my heart and though I feel like they have room to grow, I think that with time, the show will improve. I’m glad to see a Broadway style production here in our little small town, but, someone needs to go to a real show and see how professional and grand they are when accompanied by a live orchestra and smooth directing.

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One last disappointment was at the end of the night when several people waited for some kind of meet and greet with the cast. I know there were little kids in the audience that wanted to get an autograph or a special hug. Interaction with the audience is something that Branson is famous for and I was quite surprised when it was explained that Disney forbid the characters that particular interaction at the end of the night.

By the time the thousand or so people had made their way out of the theater and into the lobby, the horderves had finally been laid out in the lobby. Frankly, I thought they had simply forgotten them since food is usually served before a performance. Oh well, just chalk it up to opening night.

If you find yourself in Branson at any point in the summer and your kids are clamouring for a Disney show, take the hill off Hwy. 76 and then a quick right and you’ll find yourself at the White House theatre. The little ones will enjoy it and you will have some under-the-sea songs to hum while driving home.

Baldknobbers Jamboree

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For those of you that plan on visiting Branson, I highly recommend that you find time to go see the Baldknobbers Jamboree show. For those of you that aren’t planning on visiting in the near future, I would suggest you change those plans because you don’t want to miss all the entertainment and talent that this little small mountain town has to offer. I was graciously invited to attend this original family show that started it all back in 1959.

Jim, Lyle, Bob and Bill Mabe were the four brothers that decided to bring a musical show to Branson. Along with Chick Allen who was a family friend, they started playing on Friday and Saturday night in the lower level of the Branson Community building. They were such a success that in very short order it was necessary to remodel the old skating rink in town in order to have seating for all the folks that were coming to see the show each night. In 1968 they built a theater on Hwy. 76 which is now commonly referred to as, “the strip”.

Fifty-six years later and the Mabe family is still carrying on that musical tradition. The Baldknobbers Jamboree is an old-fashioned variety show that features country music, lots of comedy by way of Hargus Marcel (played by Jerl Adams) and Droopy Drawers Jr. (played by Tim Mabe), a couple of gospel tunes and a patriotic medley that honors all the men and women who so courageously have served our country. Was it what I had expected? Yes and no.

From the outside, the theater is pretty and very nicely landscaped. You walk up a hill (of course you walk up a hill, this is the Ozarks!) and round the corner to stand under the covered portico. Through the set of glass doors is a lobby that opens up with high ceilings, lots of photos and memorabilia and a clean, classy look of black and white. There’s a small gift shop, a concessions area and a huge American flag under glass. I later learned that the Mabes have donated numerous items to the Smithsonian in order to preserve the history and culture that their family has been such a large part of.

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We were escorted to our front row seats by a lovely young woman and we didn’t have long to wait before the magic of the evening began. Unfortunately, we had just long enough for me to manage to spill an almost entire bucket of popcorn. I had started visiting with the lady seated next to me that was visiting Branson from Cincinnati and for those of you that know me personally, you know that I have to use my hands when I talk or I probably couldn’t talk! Sure enough, there goes my arm with a mind of it’s own and before I could stop it, I managed to end up with popcorn flying all over the polished floor. I was mortified and embarrassed and immediately ran to get some help to get all the kernels cleaned up before the show started. The first person I saw was the pretty usher that had showed us to our seats. I explained what happened and Arianna could not have been more understanding. She immediately grabbed broom and dustpan and then laughingly put me at ease by telling me her misadventure with a coffee pot that had happened earlier to her. She told me not to be embarrassed and took charge of the situation and had the popcorn cleaned up in just a few seconds. She handled the situation like someone much older and the fact that she went out of her way to put this clutzy, middle-aged woman at ease, told me a lot about the quality of this show, theater and family.

Thankfully, the show began shortly and for the two hours, I was simply enchanted. Brandon Mabe is a third generation Mabe performer and he’s the perfect front man and emcee for the show. It doesn’t hurt that he’s very gentle on the eyes. He’s not only incredibly handsome, but when he smiles (which is anytime that he isn’t singing or playing straight-man to Droopy and Hargus) there’s a crinkling of lines at his eyes, which tells me the smile is from the heart and wonderfully authentic. He has a southern drawl and when he croons a country classic I know the pacemakers of some of the female audience members go just a little bit haywire. Wonder if they’ve ever had to call an ambulance over an elderly star-struck patron getting a case of the pitter-patters because of this good-looking young man?

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Patty Mabe took the stage a couple of songs later and she blew me away! This is one of the classiest ladies that I’ve ever gotten to meet. The first thing that impresses you is her strong stage presence and her beauty. She’s the wife of Tim Mabe and the mother to Brandon and watching her perform was inspirational. She has a strong voice, and her performances are raised to the divine level because of her very persona and attitude. I know some of you have seen their television reality show called Branson Famous, and some of you might think Patty is a bit of the witch that they allude to on that show. But, I want to tell you that a lot of strong women throughout history have been called names that were undeserved and this is one of those times. First off, folks, you do know that television is not real, right? What is real is the confidence and self esteem that it takes to get on a stage six days a week and perform. This lady has it all. Talent, beauty and heart. I came away from the night with great respect for this woman and the young girls of the world could do a lot worse than looking up to this wife, mother, grandmother and Branson performer.

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As if there were not enough talent in this family already, another handsome Mabe also graces the stage each night. His name is Denton Mabe and I personally think he should be nicknamed, the Dreamy Cowboy. This young man is classically chiseled with deep set, gorgeous eyes and a gentle cowboy nature just emanates from him. He’s got a strong voice that’s made for hillbilly rock and crossover country and every song he sang was powerfully crafted. Yeah, I could hear a few more pacemakers sizzling in the audience as he took the stage. I also have to mention what a gentleman he was at the end of intermission when he personally took the time to seek me out and introduce himself. He not only knows how to entertain people in the best way possible, but he’s also aware of how to make other people feel. He made ME feel important when it was him and his family that were the stars. Outstanding young man who I have a feeling is going to do great things in this life.

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The most surprising performance of the night came from a gorgeous little creature named Megan McCombs. You’ve all seen her on t.v. She’s the pretty little filly that captured Brandon’s heart and is now engaged to marry him. I knew she was a pretty girl, but I had no idea how stunning she really is. She came out for a song in this eloquent, purple and white sequined number that reflected the lights and she took my breath away. That’s how beautiful she was. Then, she opened her mouth to sing. Wow! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone live and on stage that had as much emotion and feeling as Megan does when she sings. She’s not one of those wispy quiet singers that you have to strain to listen to. She looks like an angel and she sings like a winged creature in an enchanted forest. Sweet, strong, pure and from the heart. This young lady sings from her gut. I don’t know her story yet, but I can tell you, there is one. She puts so much feeling into every single note and as you watch her perform, you can literally see her pull it from somewhere deep inside. If this is what the future of Branson looks like, then I predict another boom.

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At this fairly early point in the show, you know I’m getting a little emotional. Not over the top yet, but I’m feeling the love and I’m allowing my heart to bask in all the music and the fun. Well, Megan comes out and does her sweet, sultry song and she softens me up. Then Brandon comes on stage and does this song about the past, replete with two large screens on either side of the stage showing a collage of Mabe family pictures. It was a look into the past and I knew I was starting to get mushy. Not a second goes by in which to get the misty eyes under control, before the entire ensemble launched into a patriotic medley honoring the veterans in the audience. Oh, yeah, you know by now, it’s a battle not to let my eyes fill with tears and you know it’s a battle  I’m probably gonna lose. The military anthems were sang in such perfect harmony and to accompany the sweet, sweet sound, Brandon invited the veterans present to stand when they sang the song from their branch of the military. They get to the Navy song, and the man seated next to us stands up. I am clapping like everyone else and I look at the Naval veteran and see tears streaming down his face. You could see the pride, the sadness, and the memories in those tears and the fact that this wonderful Branson family show pays this honor to our veterans in every single performance, just made me absolutely lose it. Full on, mascara running tears! Thanks, Baldknobbers!

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Thankfully, the curtain fell quickly after the crying episode and during intermission, I was able to escape to the ladies room to fix my face. I was impressed with the theater from the moment I first saw it, but on a little funny side note that probably only my women friends are going to want to know about, the ladies room was the nicest in Branson! There were lots of stalls and sinks and a nice decor and it even smelled nice. I know the guys don’t care much, but for us women, whenever you attend an event of any size and you need to use the facilities, there are usually three stalls and three-hundred women waiting to use them. There had to be a female Baldknobber involved with the blueprints for the powder room.

I had just enough time when I returned to the auditorium, to get to see Tim and Brent Mabe again and shake their hands and get a hug. I also got to finally introduce myself to Patty and I’m hoping she will agree to lunch with me one day soon. I also got to say hi to Brandon and Megan who really are pretty people, inside and out. And, yes, Brandon, I do know you’re probably not thrilled to be called pretty, but when paired with that fiance of yours, you two truly are pretty people.

The second half of the show began and once again, it was top of the line, quality entertainment. During the show we were gifted with a a rendition of LaBamba from the very talented fiddle player, Nathan Agdeppa. It was fun and definitely not country and he even got the crowd clapping along on the chorus. We also had the pleasure of listening to another fiddle solo from a member of the band that is from, of all places, Tokyo, Japan! His name is Mike Ito and he has been with the band for more than thirty years!

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I think one of my favorite parts of the show and for sure, the most romantic had to be the duet that Brandon Mabe and Megan McCombs sang. They started off on separate ends of the stage with Megan wearing this ruby red dress that was perfectly suited for the number. As the two sang their verses they inched closer to each other in pantomime of the song they were singing. By the time they were just inches from each other and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, it felt like a Disney love story and you know know what a sucker I am for Disney. No wonder I’ve heard Brandon and Megan described as the “Brangelina” of Branson! After seeing them perform that song together, I understand the moniker completely.

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One of the most poignant part of the shows was toward the end and it was the Baldknobbers gospel segment. First off, the women were literally angels in white and kudos to the stage lighting helping to make it look like they were enveloped in moonbeams sent from heaven. The harmonies of the two women, joined by third generation Mabe cousins, Brandon and Denton was as pretty as any I’ve ever heard. The melodies were simple and the tones blended so perfectly together. Denton also sang, The Old Rugged Cross and it was close to another teary moment for me.

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So, you know it was a good evening, with top of the line performances, beautiful costuming, mystical lighting and beautiful songs. What still needs to be mentioned is the comedy performances. Throughout the show, there were constant interruptions by the bumbling duo known as Droopy Drawers Jr. and Hargus Marcel. They told jokes, they interacted with the audience and they just plain knew how to entertain. Tim Mabe told me that hillbilly comedy is the cornerstone of Branson and back in the day, it was what people from up north or out west expected when they came to Branson. It’s a formula that is still alive and well and it’s amazing that it works so well. Every time Droopy and Hargus got into their hilarious dialogs, I would look around at the faces of the audience. Every single one of them had a smile on their face and had forgotten their cares and troubles for just a little bit. They were entertained and that’s exactly what Branson is famous for. Entertaining.

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If you ever get a chance to come to this beautiful and vibrant part of the country, I would encourage you to put the Baldknobbers show on your list of must sees. They’re the original and they know what they’re doing. You’re gonna be entertained and you’re gonna get to escape reality for just a little while. Helping to make it all happen are Brent Mabe, music director, and the rest of the talented band. Brent is also second generation Mabe and is a big part of carrying on this family legacy.

I had a wildly entertaining night and it will definitely live in memories as the epitome of all that is Branson. I want to thank the Mabe family and the entire cast, band and any other Baldknobbers that I might have missed. I can see why ya’ll have been around for fifty-six years and I would hazard to guess that there might just be another fifty ahead!

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Plummer Family Reunion Show

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There was a once-a-year event in Branson yesterday. The Plummer Family performed their annual reunion show at The God and Country Theater and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and have third row seats to this historic event. The Plummer Family was one of the first families to establish a theater in Branson and their family variety show ran from 1973 to 1990 when they retired. The first picture I’ve posted shows four generations of Plummers starting with Darrell and Rosie who are mom and dad and who founded the musical group. They are joined by their two children, Randy and Melody. Melody’s husband, Dale, and son, Josh, are also a part of this on-stage, family dynasty, and what a treat yesterday when Josh brought up his lovely wife and their ten month old daughter, Lilly Kay. Four generations stood on that stage yesterday and it was more than just music, it was love.

I have been to other shows here in Branson, but this was my first time to witness a family musical group dynamic. They touched my soul. I was surprised to feel that much emotion considering that I’m not the biggest country music fan in the world, but what impressed me the most and brought the tears was the history that The Plummer Family has and the bond that they obviously share. I didn’t just listen to the music, I watched Rosie as her face filled with pride for her children and grandson. I watched Melody as she fiddled her way through a rousing tune with a smile on her face and I could see the joy that was evident not only in her face, but also coming through her music as she played her golden fiddle. I watched Randy stand in the shadows as his mom and dad sang an old duet together and I couldn’t help but let a tear slip as Josh, Melody and Dale sang a song with beautiful three part harmony.

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Darrell and Rosie Plummer have been married for sixty-two years and that alone is quite an accomplishment. But, I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched them what they had to be feeling. It made me want to get to know them, it made me want to hear their story and laughingly, it made me wonder if they would like to adopt me for just a little bit. I’ve always daydreamed about coming from a large, loving family and to get to see this group still performing and still loving each other, was absolutely priceless. The memories that they share are especially poignant and I can’t wait to get to tell just a little of their story.

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For those of you that have never been to a Branson show, it’s more than just music. It’s entertainment with old-fashioned family values and a throwback to the days of Vaudeville and variety shows. It’s another reason why Branson is so unique. When you walk through the doors of most theaters in this town, you are in for an all-around good time. Yes, there’s music; country, gospel and a smattering of main-stream. But there’s also hillbilly comedy, including one performer always dressed as the funny man. The jokes are of the silly variety and push right up to that almost naughty punch line and it was fun to observe the people around me and watch their expressions as Nearly Famous (played by bass player, Tony Hampton) made them laugh with punchlines directed at his mother-in-law and wife in the old style of Red Skelton and Tim Conway. Of course it’s a family show, so nothing ever goes overboard and whether you’re nine or ninety-nine, the jokes are corny, but familiar and the laughter is good natured and easily given to these fine performers.

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After a delightfully entertaining first half, Darrell Plummer announced an intermission and most of the audience made their way out to the lobby. During intermission at a regular theater (like The Orpheum, for example) people stand to stretch and go in search of refreshments during the short break. Restroom lines are long and the line for popcorn is even longer. But here, in Branson, things are once again done a little differently. I emerged from the ladies room only to observe a fairly large crowd gathered around the concession table. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized that the entire family was working the counter and giving out more hugs than selling CDs. And, it wasn’t just one or two…it was the entire Plummer family ensemble from Dad Plummer all the way down to little Lilly Kay looking like the Gerber baby in her adorable miniature cowboy hat. I stood to one side by the dwindling popcorn line and I watched. I watched as fan after fan approached the table and before they walked away there was always a hug to be had from Rosie or a handshake from Nearly Famous. Randy was off to one side and the line to see him, get to take a picture with him or simply give him a hug was the longest in the building. I laughed at myself as I found myself joining the line as well.

There’s a reason that people skipped the Diet Coke and instead chose to meet this wonderful man. I have to be transparent at this point and share the fact that I do have an interview set up with him this week to try and record his family’s story, or at least the Randy Plummer story, and I had no intentions of writing anything specific about him until I had actually gotten to sit and talk with him. What I can write about at this point are the people that were ahead of me in line. There were husbands and wives, there was a mom with her two children. There was the eighty-two year old lady that I was seated next to in the theater who had driven down from Springfield by herself, but told me that she never misses this annual show. They all seemed to know Randy personally, and amazingly, he called most of them by their first names and treated them like his next door  neighbors or a close friend and I witnessed another little Branson moment that just does not happen anywhere else in the world. Authentically accessible is the closest I can find to describe this genuine human being. I could go on and on here about Randy’s personna and magnetism and his down home humbleness, but I’m afraid that’s all part of that little story I’m writing.

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The second half of the show was as entertaining as the first and I found myself clapping along to the rousing fiddle tunes from Melody and mouthing the words to some old time gospel songs. To give him one more accolade, Randy sang an original tune called Angel Wings that brought the house down. Why? Because of the heart and love that glaringly, obviously lives in this unique, old school, family based group. They feel the words that they sing and in turn, make their audience feel each note and want to sing along with each chorus. A lot of them did just that and it was a moment that made me realize that I had just been witness to two hours of genuine humanity and a sharing of souls.

I’m thankful and grateful that I witnessed Branson living history yesterday when I attended this marvelous family show. It was a different experience than what I thought it would be. I thought it would be more about Conway Twitty and Ferlin Husky. I worried that it could be radically religious or just downright boring, but it was none of those things. I almost want to say that it wasn’t about the music. But, considering that it’s a musical show, that wouldn’t be right. But, what I can say is that it WAS about love. But, hey, this is me and for me, it’s always about love.

Thank you Plummer Family!

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