Branson EntertainmentFor many visitors, the No. 1 reason to visit Branson is to sample the incredible variety of live entertainment. The city has long outgrown its tag “the country music capital of the universe” that was bestowed by “60 Minutes” back in the early 1990s: Today you can choose from more than 100 different shows at 50 venues. And while country is still king, it is by no means the only game in town.
There's still plenty of traditional country music, of course, and tribute bands at the Little Opry, as well as shows starring generation-spanning families (Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers, Presleys' Country Jubilee, the Duttons).
But you also can choose from shows devoted to the 1950s (“New Jersey Nights”), baby boomer favorites like Bill Medley, tributes (“Legends in Concert”) and flashy glitz (“Puttin’ On the Ritz”). "The Legend of Kung Fu: Return of the Dragon," a world-class extravaganza, and the religious-themed shows at Sight & Sound Theatres add some welcome diversity.
Performances take place year-round, with the majority occurring March through December. Top-name artists who headline their own shows appear in Branson at least part of the year. Show schedules are subject to change; new theaters open, old theaters close and existing theaters occasionally change names. Many brochures and free newspapers publish current show schedules. If you want to see a certain show at a particular time, call ahead.
Most evening shows start at 8 p.m. Matinees usually begin at 3 p.m. There are also a couple of morning shows that usually begin at 10 a.m., including the Bretts Show and “A Tribute to John Denver” at the Little Opry Theatre.
Adult ticket prices range from about $20-$60; children's ticket prices range from free to about $30. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office or through various ticket agencies in the area. Free show guide brochures and coupon sheets, available for the taking at most area hotels, restaurants, theaters and attractions, offer a bewildering assortment of special offers; diligently collecting and sorting through these deals can end up saving you quite a bit of money. AAA members can purchase discounted theater tickets at any AAA Missouri branch office.
Branson is a conservative town, and traditional values are emphasized. Flag-waving patriotism and pro-military sentiments are often expressed in production numbers, and evangelical Christian themes are presented at some shows. Most shows also include a merchandising spiel during intermission, encouraging customers to buy CDs, DVDs, autographed posters and sundry other memorabilia. Many of the performers generously share their time with the audience, coming out during intermission to meet fans and signing autographs in the lobby after the show.
It would take weeks to see every performance in town, and few visitors have that luxury of time. The following theater rundown emphasizes proven longevity and popularity and includes current big-name stars as well as newer acts.
Note: In some theater parking lots the rear slopes sharply; visitors with limited mobility or special needs should be dropped off at the main entrance.
The Caravelle Theatre presents such shows as the Beatles tribute "Liverpool Legends."
Yakov's Theatre , just off US 65 on SR 248 used to be the home of Russian-born comic Yakov Smirnoff. Now it’s where you’ll find The Acrobats of China. The performers—all in their teens and 20s—juggle, leap, contort and cavort across the stage. This is the kind of show where poised young women balance a dizzying number of spinning plates atop sticks simultaneously—and that's the easy part. It's all fast-paced, colorful and thrilling.
A similar razzle-dazzle show, the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai, is presented at the Grand Shanghai Theatre (at 3455 SR 76W). This eye-popping spectacle will have you cheering as these gifted athletes display jaw-dropping strength, outrageous flexibility and amazing balance while performing one amazing feat after another.
The stars are out in force at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater , on SR 76 across from Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction, where the “Legends in Concert” celebrity impersonator tribute show plays. In Branson you'll naturally see country icons like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, plus the likes of Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Justin Timberlake and, of course, Elvis. Video screens flanking both sides of the stage project footage of the real-life legend, which can invite comparisons both favorable and unfavorable. The good news: no lip syncing. There's also a crack house band.
The Welk Resort Theatre on SR 165 (3 miles south of the SR 76/Gretna Road intersection) is home to the "Million Dollar Quartet" musical and occasionally presents such stars as Charley Pride, Herman’s Hermit and Pam Tillis.
One of the flashiest shows in town is at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway (near the Branson's IMAX theater complex). Tabuchi, his wife, daughter, a troupe of dancers and a band of superbly talented professional musicians put on a show that encompasses practically every style of popular music, from swing and big band to gospel, Dixieland jazz and Broadway show tunes, as well as Japanese Taiko drums, a nod toward Shoji's country of birth.
Tabuchi plays everything from “Flight of the Bumblebee” to “Over the Rainbow” on his fiddle, and the production numbers feature top-notch choreography and cool laser special effects. If nothing else, you must see this show just to experience the ladies' powder room or gentlemen's lounge; the rich wood paneling, potted palms, chandeliers, beveled-glass wall tiles, onyx sinks, fresh orchids and hand-carved mahogany billiard table are all the last word in lavish.
The ancient art of kung fu gets a theatrical makeover in a show closer to Cirque de Soleil in “The Legend of Kung Fu: Return of the Dragon,” at the White House Theatre . The troupe has a permanent home in Branson after being the opening act at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and traveling the world.
The Mabe family is still going strong at the Branson Famous Theatre , on SR 165. They carry on a show-business tradition that began in 1959. The show, Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers (formerly The Baldknobbers Jamboree Show), has a little bit of everything—crowd-pleasing comedy routines, classic country, hot new country hits, roof-raising gospel music and a rousing patriotic finale.
The Presley family stars in another longtime Branson favorite at the Presleys' Country Jubilee theater, on SR 76. Three generations of this talented family appear on stage. It's a fast-paced show, with one musical number after another. There's impassioned Southern gospel singing, classic country tunes and even a bit of “new country” (i.e., current hits). Herkimer and Cecil provide the requisite comic relief.
King's Castle Theatre , on SR 76 across from the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center & Theatre, presents a varied entertainment menu. Shows include Puttin' on the Ritz, Broadway's Greatest Hits, Christmas Wonderland, New Jersey Nights and Dublin's Irish Tenors & Celtic Ladies, who offer perfect harmonies and Irish charm.
The five talented Hughes brothers take the stage at the Hughes Brothers Theatre , on SR 76, along with their wives and children: 45 talented family members in all, plus a five-piece band. The brothers' bond shines both vocally and during moments of good-natured banter, which recalls the brothers Smothers. Their schedule includes a poplar Christmas show.
Another family, the Duttons, display their multiple talents at the Dutton Family Theater on SR 76 (next to the Caravelle). With a repertoire that manages to include both Pachelbel's “Canon in D major” and the revved-up surf instrumental “Wipeout,” the Duttons obviously have music in their genes.
The Oak Ridge Boys appear throughout the year at the Mansion Theatre . Venerable stars like Clint Black, Charlie Daniels, Johnny Mathis and Kenny Rogers also appear here. Longtime Branson entertainer Clay Cooper headlines his own show at the Clay Cooper Theatre , on SR 76 across from Titanic—World's Largest Museum Attraction. The Haygoods, #1 Hits of the ’60s, and Hot Rods & High Heels (yet another '50s tribute) also appear at Clay Cooper's.
The Starlite Theatre , on SR 76 across from the Hollywood Wax Museum, presents The Texas Tenors; AYO, Voices of Glory; Raiding the Country Vault; Raiding the Rock Vault; Larry’s Country Diner; and the comedy percussion show Buckets N Boards. Hamners' Variety Theater on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway (across from the Pierce Arrow Theater) offers several different shows, including the Hamners' Unbelievable Variety Show, co-starring comedian and ventriloquist Jim Barber and the Hamner family's exotic illusions, which incorporate a bevy of colorful macaws and cockatoos. Other performances include the Magnificent 7 Variety Show and a Conway Twitty tribute.
Sight & Sound Theatres, 1001 Shepherd of the Hills Expwy., presents elaborate live theatrical and musical performances based on Bible stories. The current show, “Samson,” is packed full of dazzling sets, special effects and music.
Many theaters also present their own special Christmas shows during November and December, and many people come to Branson during these two months to celebrate an old-fashioned holiday season. Contact the individual theaters for details.
In-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. All hotels must meet the same basic requirements for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality to be AAA Approved. A rating of one to five AAA Diamonds tells members what type of experience to expect, from no-frills to highly personalized.
The Branson/Lakes area levies general retail sales, tourism sales and food and beverage sales taxes based on three different jurisdictions: Branson Landing/downtown, citywide and Branson Hills. General retail sales taxes range from 8.6 to 9.6 percent; sales that include a tourism sales tax range from 11.6 to 12.6 percent; food and beverage sales taxes range from 8.975 to 9.975 percent.
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Skaggs Regional Medical Center, (417) 335-7000; CoxHealth Cox North (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-3000; CoxHealth Cox South (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-6000; Mercy Hospital (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 820-2000.
269 SR 248 Branson, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661
(BKG), 1 mile south of the Hollister exit off US 65, east on Branson Creek Boulevard, then following signs to 4000 Branson Airport Blvd., is served by Buzz Airways and Frontier and handles commercial and general aviation; phone (417) 334-7813.
Hertz, which only operates out of Springfield-Branson National Airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (417) 597-5313, (800) 654-3131 or (800) 654-3080. Rental cars are available at Branson Airport.
Gray Line Branson
Cab companies include Jerry’s Shuttle, (417) 348-1419; and Checker Cab, City Cabs and Yellow Cab, all of which can be reached at (417) 332-2227 (Branson Cab Service).
Unless you're part of a motor coach tour, getting around Branson is much easier if you have your own vehicle. One convenient alternative to driving is a free ride aboard the Downtown Trolley. The red-and-gold, hop-on and hop-off trolley makes 12 stops in the historic downtown area, including two stops at Branson Landing. It operates daily 9-6, Mar.-Dec.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trolley maps are available at downtown retail locations and at the Downtown Branson Betterment Association, 112 W. College St.; phone (417) 334-1548 or (866) 523-1190.