Haygood, backed by three of her five performing
brothers and dazzling effects, makes beautiful music
during a sellout Haygoods show at Branson's Clay
is cleaning up its act. It’s also updating its acts,
which, depending on where you are on the Timeline of Life,
may or may not be a good thing.
to the cleanup: That chaotic mess that is the Missouri
Highway 76 strip? Those miles of big and small theaters,
and good and bad food, and every manner of motel and
ticket-hustling storefront — all that stuff that makes
getting something of a makeover.
call it ‘The Spirit of 76 Project,’ " said
Branson spokeswoman Lynn Berry.
we’ll get to that later. Showtime:
Smirnoff — "What a country!" — gone, ending
his successful 23-year run in December. He’s going back
to Hollywood to reinvent himself, a fascinating plan we
don’t have room to detail here. (Hint: "Dancing
With the Stars." Maybe.) Mickey Gilley, another
longtime fixture with his own theater? Also gone — we’re
told, to take it a little easier as he approaches his 80th
birthday March 9.
in showbiz anywhere can be wrenching, but there’s an
intimacy with performers in Branson that makes it more
personal. They lost Andy Williams, a chandelier in a town
of kerosene lamps, to cancer in 2012. That hurt everybody.
The four Lennon Sisters are still lovely, but when they
perform, they’re down to three. Down too are the Osmonds,
one of whom — Jimmy (now 53) — bought Williams’ Moon
River Theatre and performs there, sometimes, with just two
of his brothers.
Tabuchi, after selling out his own theater for years,
still draws, but the affable Japanese-born
violinist-showman-treasure is 72. Happily for those of us
who enjoy what he does, he’s not going anywhere —
"I’m not talking about retiring. I’ll probably
fall off the stage before I retire" — but today’s
hot tickets are younger acts, many of them family
businesses such as "Six" (six athletic brothers
who sing both their lyrics and their
"instruments" — a truly amazing performance)
and the Haygoods (five athletic brothers and an athletic
sister who sing their lyrics and play actual instruments,
including a harp) and the Duttons (lots of Duttons doing
a little jarring in a community that embraces the
familiar. So what’s going on?
new kids are coming in with lasers and lights and new
songs and more energy and stealing the show," said
Dominic Haygood, 33, a member of the popular brother
troupe. "And that’s the nature of the system. You
rock it as long as you can, and then you pass the torch.
be up here forever, man."
ridiculously quick history, leaving out a lot:
grew in a couple of decades from a few modest shows plus
good fishing and "The Shepherd of the Hills"
theatrical show into something completely different.
came here in 1981," Tabuchi recalled. "The only
thing we had was the Baldknobbers and the Presleys Country
Jubilee (two hillbilly comedy-music shows), Silver Dollar
City (the theme park), and maybe three or four more shows.
That’s all. Nothing like now."
opportunity, a few (mainly Nashville music) stars followed
— first Roy Clark, then Ray Stevens, Mel Tillis (with
his beloved stutter), Bobby Vinton and other performers.
Tabuchi built a theater. So did others.
there, it just started to snowball."
loves telling this story, from 20-plus years ago, when a
TV show featured the town: "I remember when they
asked Mel Tillis on ‘60 Minutes,’ ‘How much money
are you making?’ He said, ‘M-m-millions.’ "
town and its shows — in most any given week more than
100 — drew carloads and busloads. Military veterans were
treated as special guests — and still are. "We see
about 500 military reunions a year," Berry said.
except in our hearts, old soldiers do fade away, and
veterans of Vietnam and more recent skirmishes, and others
of their generation, are a different breed.
an SUV market," Smirnoff said, "where two
couples or three couples jump into an SUV and go wherever
they want to go."
they don’t always crave lodging-show packages, even with
not going to be told where they want to go," Smirnoff
said. "They don’t want to sit in a bus with 40, 50
Brooks, 36, a 12-year Bransonian, portrays Jerry Lee Lewis
with wildly entertaining passion in a production of
"Million Dollar Quartet" that opened a projected
five-year run at the Welk Resort Theater last summer.
lot of these (traditional) shows, for good or bad or
whatever, they’re not attracting new audiences with what
they’re doing," Brooks said. "This (show) is
part of the transition that Branson needs."
Dollar City remains a solid attraction. The Titanic
Museum, which seemed a curious addition when it opened in
2006, turned out to be a popular interactive experience,
and not just for kids — who are accommodated but not
Morris, the visionary behind Bass Pro Shops (the mother
ship is in nearby Springfield, Mo.), has installed a
showpiece Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 golf course at his
Top of the Rock/Big Cedar Resort complex 30 minutes from
town. Also there (and kind of secret but, after this
story, not anymore): Morris’ Ancient Ozarks Natural
History Museum, an astounding collection of artifacts you
don’t expect to find this close to the Baldknobbers and
the Presleys Country Jubilee. (Both those artifacts, by
the way, are still here.)
to the makeover: Berry said the town has earmarked $100
million toward renovating downtown Branson (which took a
major hit 10 years ago when the Branson Landing mall
opened along the riverfront) and Highway 76. The downtown
renovation is well underway. Over eight years, additions
will include pleasant walkways along 76, with plenty of
benches plus "water features" and other
An abandoned outlet mall is being converted to Ballparks
of America, a complex of replica ballparks that will host
summer youth tournaments. Opening soon is an
80,000-square-foot indoor theme park called Fritz’s
Adventure. Also, an air gondola connecting downtown with
Silver Dollar City has been proposed. "Something 10
miles long would be very interesting," Berry said.
likely to change are Branson staples: performers greeting
fans and signing autographs after shows, salutes to
veterans, gospel songs at most performances, a general
wholesomeness, and show-time traffic gluts. (It wouldn’t
be Branson without them.)
expect more new shows — younger, louder, flashier. Plus,
from time to time, traditional favorites (Oak Ridge Boys,
Don Williams, Wynonna, Mel). And holdovers: Dixie
Stampede, Showboat Branson Belle, magicians, tribute
shows, discount coupons, buffets.
(sniff) Yakov … ?
he’ll be back," Berry said. And Mickey Gilley, who
sings this: "When the change starts taking place/ It
puts a glow on every face."?
be back," Berry said. "We’re not losing
you will. Change happens.