Barbra Streisand

Barbra

 

A phrase that I heard quite a bit last night while attending the Barbra Streisand concert at T-Mobile Arena was, “This was on my bucket list.” I didn’t hear it once or twice, I heard it murmured numerous times throughout the night including while we were mingling in front of the arena taking pictures of the newly built venue. I had decided to surprise the Bestie with tickets for his birthday and I can honestly say that it was a birthday wish that was on his own personal bucket list.

As soon as the lights dimmed in the arena and the spotlight shown down on the 74 year-old Streisand, the audience roared for the superstar and gave her a standing ovation. The arena can hold up to 20,000 people for a concert event and every single one of those people were paying homage to a living legend that has risen to the level of an icon. She has billed the concert, “The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic!” and she didn’t disappoint when the first song was “The Way We Were” from the #1 album of the same name. I’m pretty sure that that’s when the first tears of the night were shed from a majority of her fans. The first half of the concert was indeed a trip down memory lane as she belted out song after song and shared with the audience the story behind some of the songs.

The stage was simple with a grand piano, a couple of small tables, one or two chairs for her to lean against and her band in shadows. There were no elaborate sets, fancy costumes or magical stage lighting. There was simply Barbra standing there in the spotlight, talking to all of us as if we were sitting in her kitchen having coffee, and then singing a few songs that we all wanted to sing along with. It was an intimate setting and she pulled you in close. From her signature voice and Grammy award winning songs, to her political statements about Donald Trump that made me love her even more, Barbra Streisand comes off as authentic, funny, caring and genuinely nice human being. The fact that she sings like she does only adds to her celebrity persona.

After a short intermission, Barbra returned with a magician/mentalist, Lior Suchard. I looked around at my fellow audience members and could see the confusion on their faces that confirmed what I was feeling. Barbra is too big of a celebrity to need this kind of fluff. Mr. Suchard interacted with the audience and did a trick that probably was pretty amazing, but I, along with the other thousands of people were here to see the one and only Barbra Streisand. No one really wanted to see a mentalist no matter how good he might be, unless he had maybe caused Ms. Streisand to levitate high above the stage.

Thankfully, he only did the one trick and then we all had Barbra back. It was worth the wait. She showed video clips of the making of her latest album, “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway” including scenes with Hugh Jackman and Melissa McCarthy. This album is set to be released later this month and includes one of my favorites, “Pure Imagination.” Throughout the show, Barbra was everything and more than what I expected. She’s a star of mega proportions and when she sang “People” as part of the encore, I had goosebumps from head to toe.

The Bestie remarked after the show that it is easily the best concert he’s ever seen. It was definitely the most memorable concert I’ve ever attended and I can also say I left a bigger fan than when I walked in. How could I not be? She’s Barbra Streisand!

 

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Journey Branson

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There’s a little theatre here in town that isn’t that big. It doesn’t have balconies or a fancy lobby, but the sound that comes from this charming venue is some of the best you’ll hear in Branson. I had the opportunity to go see Journey Branson and I’m so glad I did. As soon as the band took the stage, and the first rock-n-roll beats filled the house, I found that little piece of my heart that had been missing. My love of head banging, hip swinging, bass-thumping music.

Jon Sousan is the mastermind that brings something different to Branson with his vision to take a store front and turn it into a little rock-n-roll tribute theatre. In addition to the Journey tribute, Jon also offers tribute shows to the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Creedence Clearwater Revival. After listening to the guys do an amazing job with the Journey songs, I know I will be back for the rest of the shows. Jon Sousan is not only the driving force behind bringing classic rock to Branson, he also produces the shows, manages the theatre and either sings vocals or plays in each of these great shows.

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Bucky Heard is the front man for the Journey tribute concert. I call it a concert rather than a show because that’s how Bucky referred to what they do. It’s a rock concert. And, it was the best rock concert I’ve ever attended. Yeah, I know that’s saying something, cause I’ve seen some of the best, but the difference is the intimate setting and the amazing talent that is on that little stage. While I loved Journey, I was never a big fan of Steve Perry. After hearing and seeing Bucky perform these memorable tunes, I decided that this local Branson musician should have been given the lead in the real Journey band.

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Bucky belted out all the famous songs with heart and soul that Steve Perry could only pretend to have. Bucky shared a piece of himself with every note he sang. I loved him in this show and was so impressed by his strong vocal ability that it made me want to hear him sing Carmen. While Journey is nothing like opera, I believe that the guy headlining this show could do some Pavarotti covers with as much style as he did the Journey songs. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s such a likable guy. Whether he’s on stage or talking a mile a minute to one of his fans at intermission, you just can’t help but to like this affable man.

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Joining Bucky on stage is one of the tightest bands I’ve ever heard. Tony Bones Irasson plays lead guitar and is quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard in this genre. He’s uber talented, feels the music and owns the guitar licks he puts down. He’s also one of the nicest, most humble guys I’ve ever met. I spoke with him during intermission and had to pry some facts from him concerning his background. He embarrassingly told me, “I just play the guitar.” Yep, it might be rock-n-roll, but this guy has the heart of a hillbilly for sure. There’s a reason guys like him come to Branson.

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Doug Clifford is the guy driving the beat on drums. I’ve always thought that drummers have to be the hardest working part of any band, considering the energy it takes to make the rhythm happen. Doug certainly gave it his all and did it in perfect sync with Bryan Lawson.

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Now, let me say one thing, when you think bass player for a hard-hitting rock band, a certain image comes to mind. Well, that image is really Bryan Lawson as he is the epitome of talent, long-hair, stage presence and looks. He looks like he eats and breathes Led Zepplin and Whitesnake tunes and has absorbed a little of Cliff Williams from the AC/DC band. He and lead singer, Bucky, are fun to watch on stage and you can tell that they have a real friendship off the stage.

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One last guy I have to talk about. Richard Kittleman, also known as The Maestro, is the keyboardist for this tribute show. Once again, Jon Sousan made a perfect choice when putting this act together, he chose this local, but legendary, musician. When not playing at the Branson Tribute Theatre, Richard plays in a number of local bands and also plays for the great Roy Clark. No wonder this show is that good.

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Branson is known for it’s hillbilly humor, back-woods humility and of course, country music. But there’s a little corner in town that offers up the most unique entertainment in Branson. You need to catch a couple of shows here and relive your high-school days with some old rock-n-roll. The shows are intimate enough to make you feel like you’re listening to your best friend’s “garage” band, but so high quality, that you find yourself thinking that you’ve traveled back in time and finally won that back-stage pass from the local radio station.

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As I was leaving the show that day, I was reminded of a farmer’s market that my mom used to go to early on Saturday mornings. We would get to the home-made stands and my mom would buy tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. There were any number of fruits and vegetables and being a kid, those kind of things didn’t really excite me. However, always up by the cash register were the real goodies. Not fruits or veggies, but cakes and pies and homemade apple butter. That was my favorite part of the whole day and even my mom couldn’t resist picking up something delicious to have as a treat after all those healthy foods.

Well, Branson is the farmer’s market and it’s one of the best in the world. We offer top quality produce that is organic and tasty. You can go to a country show, The Titanic Exhibit or one of the excellent magic shows that we have in town. You can taste country, and gospel and funny. All the fare in this town is blue ribbon awarded and the bounty is beyond belief. But, it’s heavenly to find something sweet, something a little decadent at the end of the shopping trip. This Journey tribute band and the guys in it were like finally getting to the cash register and finding the goodies. In my mind, they were the cupcakes.

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Baldknobbers Jamboree

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A few weeks ago I found out that one of my favorite shows in Branson would soon be adding a new female voice to their cast. I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that Tammy Beebe was the performer they had brought onboard. I had a chance to see this wonderful, family show a few months ago, but couldn’t wait to see the new production with an added female singer. I had the opportunity to attend their wildly entertaining show last night and I was not disappointed.

The Baldknobbers Jamboree has a variety of songs including a patriotic medley, gospel and current country hits. Between the songs, there’s old-style comedy featuring Hargus Marcel and Droopy Drawers, Jr. These lovable, bumbling sidekicks are played by Jerl Adams and Tim Mabe. The interaction between the two of them combined with their silly antics had people laughing out loud and you couldn’t help but to love the skits. Brandon Mabe plays the straight guy and does a great job being the only “normal” one on stage. It’s Ozarks comedy at it’s best and it also dates back to the beginning of this family show way back in 1959. This funny comedic team only get better with time.

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The Baldknobbers show has a great band that includes, Johnny Dumplin’ Cox, Mike Ito, Nathan Agdeppa, Jerry Adams, Jonathan Black, Pete Generous and Brent Mabe on bass and band director. Between the great songs, goofy comedy and emotional numbers, there’s a constant beat that runs through the show. It’s the sound of big-hearted, loving people that put themselves and their talent out there six nights a week.

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I know that I’m not supposed to have a favorite, but I do. As soon as the curtain rose and I heard Brandon Mabe with his sweet, southern drawl, I liked him best. He’s handsome and charming, but when he sings a pretty song, the women in the audience all swoon at least a little. There’s also a crinkling at his eyes that make you know his smile comes from the heart. Brandon is just plain likable and the perfect front man for his family show. He also puts up with the antics from Hargus and Droopy in a comically stoic way that lends credibility to the comedy routines.

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And, then, Patty Mabe sings a song with such attitude and sass that I quickly have a new favorite. This talented woman sings with a growl in her voice and a swagger to her step. When Patty belts out a song or sings the harmony lines, she believes every word she’s singing and she convinces everyone who hears her that they need to listen to what she has to say. She’s one classy lady who I’ve come to admire and respect as much as anyone I’ve ever known. So, Patty was the definite favorite of the night.

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I know I’m always slightly skewed in favor of the girls, because I love the pretty dresses and glittery outfits, so it’s no wonder that my mind was swayed to another absolute favorite in the form of Megan McCombs. No matter how many times I see this young woman both on and off the stage, I am stopped dead in my tracks by her beauty. She’s stunning, demure and petite, but has a voice that reaches the heavens. When she stepped out in the gorgeous lavender dress and began her sweet,sweet song, there was absolute silence in the theatre except for the girl on stage.  Megan makes you feel every note as if you were living it, so of course, there were tears from me. She’s riveting in her performances and is a true professional with every note she sings and every gesture she makes. How could she not be my favorite?

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Yeah, but then there’s the Dreamy Cowboy. For those of you that read my first review of this phenomenal show, you’ll know that’s the nickname that I gave to Denton Mabe. This young man has only to sing in his quiet country voice and look at you with his soulful eyes for the vote to quickly turn to Denton in the favorites category. He’s quiet and dignified and gives a near perfect performance in this show. Deton has small-town manners and world-class charisma. So, he was definitely my favorite.

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And, then, there was Tammy Beebe. I’ve written an earlier article on Tammy and I’m sure I will repeat much of what has already been said, but, I really can’t rave enough about this woman. First and foremost, she has one the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen. She literally wears it on her sleeve and is a fine example of humanity at it’s finest. Get beyond her caring and generous nature and you find a woman that is genuinely happy with who she is. And, she should be. She’s over the top talented with a voice range to rival any pop-star. Add to that, she’s classically beautiful with a face that Michelangelo would have wanted to paint. Ms. Beebe is the total package and yet has a graciousness about her that welcomes you to her world. Have to say that Tammy was my favorite.

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It all started more than half a century ago when four brothers and a friend decided to entertain folks with music and laughter. The Mabe family has carried on their tradition in the best way possible; with love for each other and for the people that come to their shows each night. At intermission, they all come out and greet their fans. They sit on the edge of the stage and sign autographs. They get hugs and handshakes and they pose for pictures with the grand-kids. But, what they really do is bring a couple hours of fun, love and laughter into our lives. At the end of the night I finally did decide on a favorite and it’s called the Baldknobbers Jamboree.

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Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers

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A big thanks to my best friend for procuring center-stage seats for one of the best shows in Las Vegas. This is the same man that took me to my first Broadway production more than two years ago and because of that introduction, I have fallen in love with this genre of art. Broadway shows tell a story through music and you get the best of both worlds. You get to see a marvelously acted story and you get to hear a grand musical concert.

Steve Wynn and the creators of ShowStoppers brings its audience to the absolute pinnacle of musical performance with a cast of sixty-six singers, dancers and musicians. The orchestra is led by Conductor Dave Loeb who does a legendary job in directing the music for each of the numbers. The curtain rises after a short audio introduction by Steve Wynn explaining what we’re about to see and experience. He tells us that a “showstopper” is a musical number that is so outstanding and so over the top that it literally stops the show. Sometimes, it will be a piece from the beginning of a show and sometimes, it can be at the end. Mr. Wynn decided that we needed a show where every song is the showstopper. I couldn’t have imagined what then took place for the next ninety minutes.

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There were more than twenty hit songs from classic Broadway, including personal favorites like, “Together (Wherever We Go),” “Cabaret” “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “One.” These sensational showstoppers were garnered from such greats as, “Mame”  “Annie Get Your Gun”  “A Chorus Line” and many more. There were six vocalists featured in the show and while they were all uber talented, I have to say I had my favorites. The three male leads are, Randal Keith, David Burnham and Andrew Ragone. These guys are all so versatile and are experienced actors and singers with impressive credits ranging from top Broadway shows to movies and television that we would all know.

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The guys were great, but, the three lead female performers were the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe because as a little girl, I was entranced by opera performers or the pictures my mom used to bring home from the Reno showrooms. There’s something old-world style about glamourous dresses and trendy coiffures. The first woman to blow me away was, Kerry O’Malley. What a classically beautiful performer with a voice more powerful and authentic than any I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing live. She’s mesmerizing in all of her stand-out performances and I swear by the end of the night that I had a little crush on this amazing lady. When she sings, she commands you to pay attention and to feel. Feel each note as she wrings it from her soul for the benefit of the hundreds of people that show up for this show each week at The Wynn Las Vegas.

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Kerry O’Malley could star in this show and it would be good, but add in the other two female singers, Nicole Kaplan and Lindsay Roginski, and you have the epitome of Broadway and you have a compilation of true “Showstoppers.” Nicole gives a genuinely cute performance in many of the songs including an interaction with a lucky audience member when she does, “A Little Brains, A Little Talent.” She’s as gorgeous as any Vegas showgirl, but has an obvious sense of humor and comedic talent up on stage. I loved her air of innocence and approachability with every song she sang.

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Lindsay Roginski was the stand-out performer of the night for me. With this sensational show and cast, that’s saying a lot. There wasn’t one member of the ensemble that were not stars in their own right and it’s really unbelievable the amount of talent that Steve Wynn found for this incredible production. However, there was one strikingly beautiful performer that instantly drew out the heart in me and that lady was, Lindsay. It’s hard to name just one thing about this performer as there’s so much to draw from. She has a great voice, she’s more gorgeous than a Victoria’s Secret model, she’s tall and willowy, she makes you think of the girl next door or the famous pin-up posters from an earlier generation. She’s all those things and yet, there’s something more. Something that brings to mind the golden age of Hollywood, the glitz and glamour that used to be old Las Vegas. I could easily imagine Ms. Roginski draped on the arm of Frank Sinatra or a young Howard Hughes. She has something; a ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality. She has IT. That something special, that something destined to make her a star.

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Showstoppers has incredible sets and colorful costumes and part of the fun was getting to be dazzled again and again when the curtain would rise to some spectacular scene or a stage full of sequined performers. It’s hard to say that I had favorite numbers as they were all so brilliantly performed. But, if I’m hard pressed, I loved the numbers from “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” probably because I knew the shows and really knew the songs.

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One of the most poignant moments of the night came in the form of a duet between Randal Keith and Kerry O’Malley. It was the song, “Anything You Can Do” and though there were many other numbers more flashy and complicated, there was none that touched me as a human more. The two of them not only sang the song creatively and brilliantly, but put enough of their own personalities into it, to make it relatable and funny. There’s a part of the song that Randal sang in such a way as to actually make his co-star laugh for real. Not acting, not pretending, but really having fun on stage. When performers can make you feel like that, there’s a magic that is unattainable in any other venue.

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Millions of people visit Las Vegas every year. Some go for the gambling, some go for the shows and some go to do things that can only be mentioned when in Las Vegas. The next time you find yourself in the desert of southern Nevada and are looking to have a “real” experience, you have to make your way over to the high-end, luxurious complex known as Wynn Las Vegas. Then you have to shell out a few bucks (okay, more than a few, but you get what you pay for.) and go see this perfectly suited to Las Vegas show. It’s a taste of yesteryear and some of our favorite Broadway shows. Bring the kids if you can afford it. While it’s not geared for a younger audience, this production keeps it fairly clean and there’s nothing like exposing a younger generation to art and culture that is on this level.

Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers could just possibly be the best Broadway show out there, even if the Las Vegas strip is a long way from New York. This show will leave a mark on your heart. For me, it was one of those special, magical nights that makes me so thankful to be living my life. Another perfect night of friendship, Broadway and songs that I’m still humming three days later.

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Tammy Beebe

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I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Jerry Presley’s Elvis Live show in Branson. I loved the show, loved Jerry and was very impressed with both the band and the back-up singers. Those of you that read the blog post about the show, know that there was one voice that stood out from the rest and that was, Tammy Beebe.

Tammy was gracious enough to meet me for lunch and we had a chance to get to know each other. Her handsome hubby came along and within minutes, it felt like I was sitting with friends. The Beebes are friendly, open, authentic and genuinely nice people. I usually like to interview people one on one as I find them to be more talkative and forthcoming than when they are with their significant other, but this couple was different. As husband and wife and life-long friends, they brought a dynamic to the interview that I found charming and heart-warming.

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One thing that a lot of entertainers in this town seem to have in common is, they’re happy people. I think part of that comes from their faith, and their families, but mostly, I think it’s because they are chasing their dreams, doing what they love to do. There is no better feeling than getting up each day knowing that you are utilizing your God given talents. Tammy and her husband Brian are optimistic about their recent relocation to Branson. And, I have to agree with them. I think Branson is lucky to have another addition to the music scene.

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Not only does Tammy have one of the prettiest voices I’ve ever heard, she is also one of the most beautiful women that I’ve ever seen. Inside and out. I put great stock in how a person is on the inside and Tammy is so talented that she could be green and covered in warts and she would still wow you with her singing. However, it’s not often that someone so radiant and stunning comes along that also sings like an angel. I had a hard time not staring at her over lunch, because she has the old-time Hollywood look. She’s as glamorous as Jane Russell or Ava Gardner and if she ever decides to pursue an acting career, she would look great on the big screen.

Tammy is also owner at BB Artistry and is an amazing make-up artist. She graciously volunteered to do my “author” photo and promised me that she would have me looking very glam. For my female friends, you have to go check out her site. She also does image consulting and skin care and once you lay eyes on this pretty lady, you’ll want to know her secrets.

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I’ve learned to ask who else in the family is talented and wasn’t surprised when Tammy told me about growing up with musically inclined parents. She sang in church from a young age, but told me that she never really took it that seriously, until she was a little older. The biggest surprise for me was how low of a speaking voice Tammy has, when she hits the highest notes, five days a week in her show at the Jim Stafford Theatre. She told me that she’s a natural alto singer and she’s had to train her voice and herself to reach the notes she does. That’s dedication, talent and perseverance.

Both Tammy and Brian are true examples of people that live by faith. They told me that it’s not always about what they want, it’s about what God wants. They include a lot of prayer in their daily lives and believe that God will lead them down the paths they are meant to walk. During the interview I found out that a few years ago, Tammy had auditioned for a part in Hairspray. Yes, Hairspray that is on Broadway in New York and the same Hairspray that starred John Travolta. She got the part, but knew in her heart that a move to New York wasn’t what was right for her at that time. She did admit with a big smile that she turned down the role before she knew about who her handsome co-star would be.

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So, there’s a little gem here in Branson that you have to go see and hear. I wouldn’t be surprised in just a few years time that Tammy could be at her own theatre, but for now, she says that she absolutely loves her job as a back-up singer for Jerry Presley. She loves the energy that Jerry brings to the show impersonating his famous cousin and has loved the challenge of learning all the Elvis songs. I can’t imagine anyone else singing her part and you won’t either, once you’ve seen her live.

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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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