Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…America’s independence will be celebrated across the country and Branson is no exception…especially at The Branson Landing—Branson’s premiere shopping and dining entertainment destination located in Historic Downtown Branson on Lake Taneycomo.

The local community and visitors are invited to “Light Up” their Independence Day celebration a day early, beginning on Thursday, July 3rd with a host of family friendly activities and events planned throughout the day, ending with a special all-American musical tribute and state-of-the-art fireworks extravaganza! Beyond your standard July 4th fireworks celebration, the Landing’s first annual “Liberty Light Up” promises to light up the lives of young and old alike. From an outdoor “Red, White & Blue Town Square BBQ” sponsored by Famous Dave’s BBQ to some All-American family games and contests including, The Red, White & Blue Bubblegum Contest, The Boom Blaster, Hoola Hoop Contest, Uncle Sam Bean Bag Toss and more, the day’s activities will celebrate the American way of life!

Plus, the celebration continues into the night with the kick off of the Landing’s Tribute to America Concert Series with a special musical performance by “Bucky and the Boys”, culminating into an amazing star-spangled fire in the sky display over Lake Taneycomo, produced especially for this extraordinary event by Premier Pyrotechnics, Inc.

“The local community has long loved Bucky Heard as the lead singer with the Horn Dawgs and his show-stopping performances at The Legends Theatre as one of the Blues Brothers – to his latest run with the one and only, Andy Williams. His amazing talent and fan base is duly noted by his being honored as the “Branson Singer of the Year in 2005” and, for being the voice that sings on the unforgettable “Listen to the Music” Commercial, promoting Branson. And now… “this much enjoyed artist will bring an unforgettable cast of talented musicians to our outdoor concert stage in front of the beautiful Branson Landing Fountains for a special salute to American music for both locals and visitors to enjoy,” stated Tammy Scholten, Director of Marketing for the Branson Landing.

The evening’s FREE concert, beginning at 7:30 PM in front of the Fountains launches the start of the Landing’s Summer Lineup Concert Series, showcasing some of the best loved American music throughout July and August, as well as some dates in September. The Branson Landing Concert Series Lineup is as follows:

July 3rd: 7:30pm – Bucky & The Boys

July 5th: 7:00pm – SIX
July 12th: 8:00pm – Christie’s Ex – A Billy Joel Tribute Band
July 26th: 8:00pm – Cruize Control – A Jimmy Buffet Tribute Band
Aug. 2nd: 8:00pm – Bad Habit
Aug. 9th: 8:00pm – Sequel Dose
Aug. 16th: 8:00pm – Julia Burton & The Northfork Band
Aug. 17th: 6:00pm – Last Place
Aug. 23rd: All Day – 20th Annual Downtown Branson Fiddle Festival
Aug. 30th: 8:00pm – Chain Reaction – A Journey Tribute Band
Aug. 31st: 8:00pm – Take It To The Limit – An Eeagles Tribute Band
Sept. 14th: 7:00pm – Jake Simpson – 2004 Star Search Winner
Sept. 21st: 6:00pm – The Springfield Symphony with Special Performances by Carrie April Tillis and Andy Williams!
Information & Image courtesy of Branson Chamber of Commerce
July Events in BransonLaura Ingalls Wilder: Across the Prairie Museum Exhibit
June 3, 2008 – August 30, 2008
Location: American Presidents Museum is located in the Old Majestic Steakhouse Bldg at 2849 Gretna
Created by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, this panel exhibit will be combined with Pioneer Life, an exhibit and activity program taking visitors through a day in the life of a pioneer.
National Kids Fest
June 7, 2008 – August 10, 2008
Times: Open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Location: Silver Dollar City
Kids’ Fest presents an all-new show: The Magic of Peter Gossamer, Circus of the Century on Ice, a circus-themed show with a cool twist for summer – playful animals and clowns on ice. Also a Kid Concoctions creativity center where kids can make their own Gooey Gunk or Splongee Balls, or learn to make a volcano, from the acclaimed Kid Concoctions books and television show.
Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest
July 2, 2008
Times: 7:00 pm
Location: Legends in Concert Theater
Admission: $20 for preferred seating and $15 for general admission seating
Judges will look for the “best representation of the Elvis legacy” in talent, appearance, performance, stage presence, and overall tribute to Elvis in naming the “2008 Elvis Tribute Artist of the Year.”
Branson Landing’s 1st Annual Liberty Light Up
July 3, 2008
Location: Branson Landing
Activities all day, with a concert by Bucky & the Boys at 7:30 p.m. followed by fireworks at dark.
Summer Sale at Factory Merchants Branson
July 3, 2008 – July 7, 2008
Location: Factory Merchants Branson
Phone: (417) 335-4041
Join us for wonderful savings at the 4th of July summer sale! Stock up on savings at the annual sidewalk sale, just look for the red roofs.
11th Annual I LOVE AMERICA Celebration
July 4, 2008
Times: Gates open at 11:00
Location: 65 & Division
Sponsored by James River Assembly
Annual Fourth of July Celebration
July 4, 2008
Location: Rockaway Beach
Phone: 800-798-0178
Big Cedar Lodge Fireworks Display
July 4, 2008
Times: Begins at Dark
Location: Big Cedar Lodge
Phone: (417) 335-2777
Admission: Free
Fireburst Fourth of July Fireworks Show
July 4, 2008
Location: Kimberling City, MO
Fireworks Display & BBQ
July 4, 2008
Times: BBQ begins at 4:00 p.m.
Location: Flat Creek Resort, Cape Fair
Phone: (417) 538-2222
Join us for food and fun!
Hollister’s 55th Annual 4th of July Celebration
July 4, 2008
Times: Fireworks begin at dark
Location: Old Hollister Elementary School
Longest running fireworks display in Taney County.
Shell Knob 33rd Annual Fire & Thunder Fireworks
July 4, 2008
Location: Shell Knob
Phone: (417) 858-3300
Sponsored by Shell Knob Chamber of Commerce. (In case of rain, will be rescheduled for July 5th)
Spirit of 76
July 4, 2008
Times: 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Location: 4 area Branson parks, Alexander, Cantwell, Murphy, and Stockstill
Phone: (417) 337-8387
Show your patriotism on Independence Day by wearing Red, White and Blue and join us. Get Free Ice cream and a free flag! For more information contact Steve Weyher.
AREA ’57 CRUISE IN & Drive-In Movie Night
July 5, 2008
Location: Dick Clark’s
Chateau on the Lake Fireworks Display
July 5, 2008
Times: Begins at Dark
Location: Chateau on the Lake
Fireburst Flotilla on Table Rock Lake
July 5, 2008 Add to Itinerary
Location: Pt. 6 Cow Creek to KC Bridge
Ozarks Fun Run F-100 Truck Show
July 11, 2008 – July 13, 2008
Location: Dick Clark’s
American Kids Inc. National Finals
July 14, 2008 – July 18, 2008 Add to Itinerary
Location: The Baldknobbers Theater
Phone: 417-337-8964
The nation’s only little league of entertainers hosts its membership competition & grand finale event. Grand prize of $1,000 in cash to be awarded to a top finalist in addition to age & category prizes.
National Day of Atomic Remembrance
July 16, 2008
Times: 11:30 a.m.
Location: God and Country Inspiration Garden
Phone: (417) 337-8387
The 62nd anniversary of the first atomic explosion and all veterans who were exposed to radiation in the line of military duty will be recognized during the National Atomic Veterans Day of Remembrance Observance. Navy Retired Lieutenant David Combs will present a special message during the observance. President George W. Bush declared July 16th as a National day for all military groups and veterans associated with the nuclear programs. For more information contact Dawn Easton.
AREA ’57 CRUISE IN & Drive-In Movie Night
July 19, 2008
Location: Dick Clark’s
Gateway Chevy HHR
July 25, 2008 – July 27, 2008
Location: Dick Clark’s
2008 HHRitage Nationals Benefit Show & Shine!
July 26, 2008
Times: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Location: Dick Clark’s Area 57
Phone: (417) 332-1960
Admission: FREE
Enjoy an afternoon of fun at Dick Clark’s Area 57. Chevy HHR car owners will compete in variety of show categories from stock to wild custom. This will be a great time for all car enthusiasts. (Proceeds benefit the Children’s Miracle Network)
Korean War Armistice Day
July 26, 2008
Times: 10 a.m.
Location: Ozark Memorial Park Cemetery
Phone: (417) 337-8387, (417) 546-3150
The Harry S. Truman Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association will host a memorial ceremony marking the end of “The Forgotten War,” remembering veterans who returned and those who did not. For more information contact Sean Murray.
Living Green & Loving It! Summit & Expo 2008
July 26, 2008
Times: 9 AM – 6 PM
Location: Tri-Lakes Center
Phone: 417-739-2185
Admission: $8.00 Adults / $6.00 Local Residents & 12 & Under Free.
Muscle Car Show
July 26, 2008
Location: Dick Clark’s
Crown Victoria Association National Convention
July 27, 2008 – August 2, 2008
Location: Branson Hilton Convention Center
Phone: (620) 256-6630
For more information please contact J. Scott Love, Treasurer.Information courtesy of Branson Chamber of Commerce

Western Music Association board members voted Saturday, June 21, to partner with Silver Saddle Productions to bring the WMA Hall of Fame to Branson and have it housed in the Heritage of the West Museum.

The museum, restaurant and club, planned for opening in about five to six months, is part of a $100 million, two-part development that includes the Great American Wild West Show and retail complex on Gretna Road, along with Mission Square across the road next to the Branson Mills Craft Village.

Mission Square will open first with the museum and Ghost Riders Restaurant featuring western and country music with other developments to follow.

“The heritage of the West is a living thing,” WMA Executive Director Jon Messenger said. “Part of the (scope) of the museum is when people see this museum, they not only understand the past of the West, but they understand a little of the present.”

The initial contact by Don and Sharon Ensley, owners of the production company, was made in January with the association’s board.

The chairman of the advisory board to the association, Rex Allen Jr., said the production company contacted him after the first of the year with a concept of the venue for the Great American Wild West Show.

“They were looking for participation of western performers. It has been my goal to take western music to the next level, which is a permanent hall of fame,” Allen said, explaining that adding the WMA would provide the first permanent home for all things western.

“There is none now. Somewhere a bronze of my father and Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers, and Marty Robbins can be displayed. Someplace where people can come in and see it,” he said of the singing cowboy hall of famers.

Plans for the Mission Square museum show may include a carriage shop where guests may watch craftsmen building wagons. It will feature singing cowboys, silver screen western movies and life in the American West displays.

The Design Development Group has been retained, according to SSP general manager Cary Parker, who said the group concerned with the museum had toured the site by helicopter last week.

The 2,000-seat indoor stadium for the Great American Wild West Show is slated for opening in the spring of 2009.

“The entire 50-acre project will take about three to four years to complete,” Parker said.

Information & Image courtesy of Branson Daily News

Six young performers, who were thrust into the world of fans and fame as “American Idol” contestants, sat and talked about their personal goals, their fears and their faith with about 40 guests at the Radisson Hotel on Friday, June 20, before their show opened at the Grand Palace.

These six past Idol contestants will be performing through the end of June. A parade of Idol contestants will make up the “American Idol” show at the Grand Palace through Oct. 26, on Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

A crowd of Branson fans opened their arms Friday night to the contestants they had cheered on during each American Idol season.

The real idols are just that … real.

Promoter Steve Drummond said he wanted to bring something young, something fresh to Branson. He promised the small gathering they were in for a fantastic show. Then he let them all talk to each other.

How did being on American Idol change your life?

“I just want to share my heart with the world. I’m honored to be on the show with them,” RJ Helton, who made it to the top five in the first season said about the other Idol contestants.

“It opened so many doors — I’m here in Branson about to open a show with other Idol contestants,” season six contestant Haley Scarnato said. “It’s really been a blessing. It opened so many doors. We get to perform now, and people will listen to me.”

When the six of them started talking about blessings, they all wanted to share.

Vonzell Solomon, a season four contestant, placed behind third runner-up Bo Bice and winner Carrie Underwood.

“We were like a family back stage,” she said. “We were all going through the same things. When we got on the tour, the stress factor was gone, so it was like let’s have a good time.”

She added that getting together with others from different seasons was easy — like they already knew each other.

“We all had stuff in common and could get together and talk about it,” she said.

Brandon Rogers, a season six contestant, said the first show after Idol, they could all relax.

Vonzell said they would all get together and pray.

RJ said he’d been instructed not to talk about religion, politics, but when a fan asked how he got through the audition he said, “I prayed.”

Carmen Rasmusen, who was originally cut from the top 200, but later given a second chance on the Wild Card show along with Clay Aiken, commented that coming to Branson, they felt welcomed.

She announced Friday to the group of fans and media that she and her husband are expecting a baby around Christmas Eve.

“Now we’re able to open up and talk about (God),” she said.

Scott Savol, a top five performer in season four, said he never went looking for fame. He simply wanted to do what he loved best — sing and perform for others.

“When I let God do it, it turns out better than when I do it,” he told the group.

Rasmusen said the best thing about being on the show was to have someone come up to her and say, “My daughter looks up to you.”

“That has meant more to me than any amount of money or fame — to know that maybe I’ve influenced someone in the way that I’ve lived my life. Some people might say they don’t want to be in an example, but like it or not, we are in the spotlight. To me that’s the neatest thing,” she said.

Information & Image courtesy of Branson Daily News

Tony Z’s Italian Ristorante and Lounge was the recipient of two awards from one of southwest Missouri’s leading arbiters of entertainment and culture, 417 Magazine. The magazine conducts a yearly survey of restaurants in Springfield, Branson, and surrounding areas. Tony Z’s Caesar salad was rated number one and the Branson restaurant was one of two establishments tied for “Best Italian Restaurant” honors.

Voted “Best New Restaurant in Branson” by 417 Magazine in 2006, Tony Z’s has established a strong culinary beachhead in Missouri’s tourist and entertainment Mecca. Tony Z’s Caesar salad was praised not only for its taste and appearance, but the salad– which is prepared tableside– received a commendation for the showmanship involved in its preparation. A short review accompanying the “Best Italian Restaurant” award cited the restaurant’s generally elegant atmosphere and owner Tony Zurzolo’s extensive menu as factors in establishing Tony Z’s preeminence.

With a readership of over 130,000, 417 Magazine’s endorsement is a major feather in Tony Z’s cap.

The restaurant also received high marks from the on-line travel and entertainment site

First opened in 2005, Tony Z’s Italian Ristorante and Lounge is located somewhat off the beaten path in Branson, Missouri. The restaurant’s distance from major tourist attractions has meant that their success has been largely based on word of mouth and a reputation for quality food rather than on location.

Tony Z’s Italian Ristorante and Lounge invites patrons to, “Experience the Ultimate in Authentic Italian Cuisine.” Along these lines, the restaurant serves a number of traditional Italian dishes augmented by a few unconventional selections. In their positive review, 417 Magazine listed Tony Z’s spinach-artichoke dip and pizza as representative of standard Italian cuisine and braised pork shank, lamb, and a daily seafood special as a few departures from the traditional.

Information & Image courtesy of Tony Z’s Italian Ristorante & Lounge

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri is home to several great shows, including the Original Stars of American Bandstand. Their ’57 Heaven Auto and Lifestyle Exhibit also features cars and fun activities for the family.

In addition, they also have AREA ’57, which is an open 5.5 acre outdoor event facility with a 40 x 50 stage that is the perfect venue to host car shows, motorcycle rallies, concerts, and special events. AREA ’57 is situated within the 26-acre Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater Complex Situated between the 970-seat Theater and our 300-room Ramada hotel all located on Highway 76 in Branson, Missouri.AREA ‘57 is also home to the monthly “Cruise-Ins & Drive-Ins” which feature the best in classic and custom cars and vintage B Movies that the drive-ins of yesterday made famous!
Here is the line-up for June:
June 20-22 – 9th Annual Route 66 MOPAR Car Club – MOPAR’s in Branson Car Show
June 21 – AREA ’57 CRUISE IN & Drive-In Movie Night: Featured movie: Vanishing Point
June 27 – AREA ’57 CRUISE IN & Drive-In Movie Night: Featured movie: Star Wars
June 28 – Drive-In Movie – Gears, Grease and Guitars! MIDWEST PREMIER PARTY

Every child dreams of a special place where playtime and fun never end. Every parent wishes for a place where families can share in creating lifetime memories. Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri fills all of these wishes with their National Kids Fest.

That’s exactly what you’ll find nestled in the hills of the Ozarks during America’s Largest Kids Fest! Your imagination will be sparked from the excitement of your first coaster ride to the delight of new shows and your favorite adventures!
NEW! The Magic of Peter Gossamer
From the by-gone days of the amazing Harry Houdini comes one of the world’s greatest illusionists, Peter Gossamer! See mystifying tests of mind over matter with baffling vanishings, mind-boggling levitations and spellbinding feats that will leave you in awe!
As seen on “The World’s Greatest Magic 5”, Gossamer’s Magic combines original concepts and a fresh approach to the art of illusion with comedic vignettes and a charismatic personality for a truly amazing performance.
Appearing in the Opera House Friday – Wednesday, the show vanishes into thin air every Thursday. Show times are 11:30, 1:30, 3:30 (times subject to change without notice.)
All NEW – Ice Circus!
The greatest show on ice delivers brand new, never-before-seen acts in 2008! This main stage show has skated onto the scene as the only show of its kind combining all the fun of the circus… hilarious clowns, unicyclists, elaborate animal costuming, stunning silk aerialists, shadow juggling and even skaters on stilts with the beauty and grace of precision ice skating. See the big top come to life with the coolest show in town

Join the circus in Red Gold Heritage Hall everyday except Wednesdays. Show times are 11:00, 2:30 and 4:30; Saturdays 11:00, 1:00, 3:00 and 4:30 (times subject to change without notice.)

NEW! VeggieTales® Presents:The Invention of Silliness!
This summer VeggieTales® is proud to introduce its newest zany character, Pa Grape, as he tries to create the biggest and best Silly Song ever in his workshop. See this world premiere of VeggieTales® newest production as you share important life lessons, filled with timeless values, with your family. Plus, meet Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber after each show!
Sing along in the Riverfront Playhouse everday of the week. Show times are 11:30, 2:00 and 4:00 (times subject to change without notice.)
Kid Concoctions™
The folks from Kid Concoctions™ return in 2008 with a new and expanded activities area! Let your imagination run wild in this interactive barn with the award-winning brand Kid Concoctions. Learn the secret recipe for Gooey Gunk and watch our experts make volcanoes. You’ll be amazed by what fun you can create with a little imagination and common household items!
You can even play the day away on the City’s square with over 100 interactive kid-sized experiments, games and creative activities.
All this, plus Championship Cloggers, banana split eating contests and over 30 other rides and attractions including barn-bursting fun at The Giant Swing, the high-speed, multi-looping WildFire®, the corkscrew curves of Thunderation, the white river rapids of The Lost River of the Ozarks and PowderKeg® – launching from zero to breathless in 2.8 seconds!
For smaller kids, take a turn on the 10 family rides at The Grand Exposition, smaller-scale rides are found in a multi-level play area Tom Sawyer’s Landing, and interactive adventure awaits at the World’s Largest Treehouse at Geyser Gulch and Splash Harbor.
Information and Images courtesy of Silver Dollar City

Comparing an 1880s-style theme park to a tree seems like a stretch, but knowing Silver Dollar City’s true story, it makes perfect sense.

Silver Dollar City arose from a spectacular, natural cavern, Marvel Cave, deep underground in the southwest Missouri Ozark Mountains – just a gas tank away from Southwestern Illinois – building the park around trees instead of over them.

“It’s a great root ball that has determined the roots of this community,” said Silver Dollar City co-founder Pete Herschend, who founded the park with his brother, Jack, and whose father, Hugo, inspired the theme park. “It makes a vast difference in our corner of the world today, who we are today and who we will be tomorrow.”

Hugo and Mary Rinker Herschend leased Marvel Cave in Shepherd of the Hills country for public tours in the 1950s. No theme park existed then.

After Danish immigrant, Hugo Herschend, a transplant with his family from the Chicago suburbs to Branson, died Nov. 14, 1955, Mary took over managing Marvel Cave and its tours. Mary, born on a farm near Table Grove, Ill., and educated at Eureka College in Illinois, announced in 1959 the construction of an Ozark Mountain village to be located at the north end of Marvel Cave’s parking lot.

The Ozark village would be a living, working village, for the purpose of entertaining tourists waiting for cave tours, she said. Silver Dollar City opened May 1, 1960, its name coined by the park’s press agent at the time. It was so named because silver dollar coins would be given to visitors as change when most people paid with paper money instead of plastic cards.

Americans of the late 1950s were enamored with Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and the Western frontier. They loved the Wild West. Thus, Silver Dollar City began with such a theme: five frontier-style buildings, two reconstructed log buildings, the Wilderness Church and the McHaffie Homestead, making up an old-time village. Also on site were a blacksmith shop, general store, ice cream parlor, doll shop and the Stage Coach Inn, all still there.

Silver Dollar City’s charm lies in its organic, family-owned essence that has changed a bit over time, but also mostly remained intact at its roots.

Silver Dollar City “citizens,” or employees, dressed in late 1800s attire, and still do, while “the Hatfields and McCoys” reinstated their legendary feud on Main Street. Ultimately, Ozark Mountain folk culture has replaced that of the Old West.

Silver Dollar City wanted for no entertainers, because it had generations of Branson-born performers who had entertained visitors long before the bright neon lights and music halls on 76 Country Boulevard, Branson’s main strip. The famous Presleys’ Country Jubilee, one of the original shows, started in a cave to cool off tourists during hot weather.

Silver Dollar City also came with its own Ozark folklore, thanks to author Harold Bell Wright’s “The Shepherd of the Hills,” reportedly based upon real individuals living in the Branson area at the turn of the century.

Ozark crafts also became an integral part of Silver Dollar City’s success. Mary Herschend, who died in 1983, was interested in the Ozark people’s crafts and thought others also would be. The City’s most important seasonal event, National Festival of Craftsmen, began in 1963 as the Missouri Festival of Ozark Craftsmen.

“People say, ‘I came there when I was a little kid. I want my kids to feel that,'” Pete Herschend said. “It’s a joy for us as a community to watch growth, to be a part of it and watch the change.”

This year, Silver Dollar City celebrates its biggest festival year to date, with new original stage productions, performing groups and festival showcases. The spring season started the year off with an Irish Celebration at its World-Fest and Bluegrass and BBQ festival.

This summer, Silver Dollar City brings families its Biggest Kids Fest Ever, presenting a nationally recognized slate of entertainment with The Magic of Peter Gossamer, a Kid Concoctions Activity Center, an interactive world of play, a “VeggieTales” live stage show produced exclusively for Silver Dollar City and an Ice Circus with skating performers from around the world.

Fall’s Southern Gospel Picnic features the top traditional and contemporary entertainers in the genre. The National Harvest Festival brings the largest gathering in America’s Heartland of demonstrating craftsmen, harvest-time foods and musical performances plus special events: A Salute to the American Cowboy and an all-new Tribute to the American Farmer.

Silver Dollar City will conclude the year with its An Old Time Christmas light show.

“Historically, in tough economic times, people from within a 300 mile radius will still travel to Branson, but they’re looking for real value when they get here – without forfeiting quality,” said Jerry Henry, research director for Silver Dollar City. He noted the park has added new “kid’s meal deals” and merchandise/food discounts to its ticket packages.

Information courtesy of The Telegraph
Images courtesy of Silver Dollar City

Curly the Camel experienced a momentary bout of stage fright, and Scrappy the Goat lived up to his cantankerous reputation.

And it rained. And rained. And rained.

But the rain, along with thunder and lightning and the unexpected antics of about 100 live animals, is among the reasons “Noah — the Musical” has visitors to Branson tapping their toes and applauding a new level of entertainment in a city where nearly 100 shows of all formats already fill stages day and night.

“The whole auditorium gasped when they raised the curtain on the second act,” said Melissa Pulis of Springfield, who saw the show with her 5-year-old son, Collin, soon after it opened in late May. “He kept saying ‘I’m in the middle of the ark,’ and it really felt like we were.”

The larger-than-life musical indeed places spectators in the middle of the action. When the animals board the ark two by two they prance down the aisles right through the audience. The 300-foot-long stage wraps around the seats on three sides.

If that weren’t enough, the distinct aroma of live animals, the swaying of the boat as flood waters lift it from the ground and the powerful dialogue of Noah’s distressed family as the world disappears before them help create a dramatic presentation rarely seen in Branson.

“The Branson audience is used to a musical performance of about 90 minutes, so it’s going to be interesting to see people react to more of a Broadway-style, big theater production,” said Bonnie Bosso, vice president of production for the show, which runs about 2 1/2 hours.

“This show is not just unique to Branson but really unique to the country in terms of its scope and its message,” she said.

Long before guests get their first whiff of hay or hear the first strains of the prerecorded orchestra, they know something is different about this theater and show. On the north side of Branson on a hill distant from the Missouri 76 melee, the three domes of the Sight & Sound Theatre tower above the city, creating an image some locals have called “Little Jerusalem.”
The Sight & Sound Theatre company, based in Strasburg, Pa., is often referred to as “the Christian Broadway” by theater critics and fans. The name Sight & Sound refers to the parables Jesus used to spread his message. It is the company’s first permanent theater outside Pennsylvania.

“The stories are written with all people and all ages in mind,” founder Glenn Eshelman said. “We most certainly appeal to the Judeo-Christian audience, but people from all religions and from all over the world have experienced the show — possibly attracted to the epic proportions and quality of the shows.”

The new theater is Branson’s 53rd and the first since Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater opened in 2005.

Physically, at least, no other building in Branson measures up to Sight & Sound. At 339,000 square feet, it is the largest building in the community, more than 100,000 square feet larger than the Branson Convention Center, which opened in September 2007. With 3,811 seats, the 15-year-old Grand Palace offers more seating than Sight & Sound’s 2,085 seats, but Sight & Sound’s structure also includes office space and construction workshops.

The stage also is the biggest in Missouri. Its 40-foot-tall sets are comparable to those of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, and its 300-foot-long stage is bigger than the one at Radio City Music Hall.

Tom Fish, the architect and project manager during construction, compares it with the Grand Hall of Kansas City’s Union Station, which has a 95-foot-high ceiling and 72,930 total square feet. Fish was a consultant to one of the architectural firms involved with the train station’s renovation and is now director of operations at Sight & Sound.

“The biggest issue we had to deal with was a ventilation system necessary for so many animals in house,” he said. “Designing a green room for the animals was a career first for me. In fact, I’m not sure it’s ever been done in this country.”

Below the massive auditorium and stage is a 35,000-square-foot housing and training facility for a collection of animals almost as diverse as the one in the Bible story of Noah. Camels, llamas, alpacas, pigs, cows, donkeys, zebras and a panoply of birds receive the attention and pampering one might expect for the stars of a major theatrical production. The soundtrack from “Noah” gently fills the animals’ living quarters 24 hours a day. Fresh hay fills their stalls each day. The animals receive recreation in an adjacent five-acre pasture. And although they don’t require makeup, the animals are each brushed and groomed every day before their performance.

In some ways the Branson version of “Noah” even one-ups the Bible story. The version in Genesis requires two of each species; the Branson production requires three. Although the animals enter the ark two by two, a third “understudy” is waiting in the wings.

The collection is missing one species that had been written into the script. A pair of skunks, meant to provide a lighthearted moment as Noah holds his nose at their passing, were eliminated by Branson ordinances.

“Apparently the city of Branson is afraid that the skunks would procreate within the city limits,” Bosso said.

Branson didn’t excise all the humor from the show. In a scene not clearly referenced in Genesis, Noah climbs from one story to the next in the ark, checking on the animals. When his wife calls him to dinner, instead of going back down four flights of stairs, Noah simply slides down a fire pole.

One challenge for actors was adapting to so many live critters in the spotlight. At auditions, which were held in about a dozen places across the country beginning last December, the actors were asked about any allergies to or fears of animals. Rehearsals included bonding time between the animals and the 45 actors. Watch closely as a St. Bernard puppy puts its head on Noah’s lap and you’ll see Noah discreetly reward the dog with a treat.

Actress Candida Arvizu, 34, who moved to Branson from New York in 1995, plays three roles — a belly dancer, an ark worker and Havah, a friend of Noah’s family. It is her responsibility to get the pigs, rabbits and pigeons on board the ark.

“The animals certainly keep things lively,” Arvizu said. “I try to help my friend manage the goats because they are so anxious to get on board and be rewarded with a treat that it’s like water skiing down the aisle just holding onto their ropes.”

Despite highly technical production values that include fireworks, nearly 200 animatronic animals and a laser light show, among the most important pieces of equipment are a broom, a shovel and an invention nicknamed the “poo-boni.” Just as a Zamboni is used to clean up and freshen the surface on ice rinks, the poo-boni cleans up the droppings occasionally left by the animals in the public areas of the theater.

“We try to feed and exercise the animals on a very strict schedule so as to minimize their deposits, but we anticipate accidents to happen and the audience to play along with it,” Fish said.

The Sight & Sound Theatre has been in the works for nearly five years. In addition to the hundreds of temporary jobs created during construction, the theater employs 250 people full time, including some who have moved to Branson to be part of the show.

“This is a destination, not just an experience within the destination of Branson,” Bosso said.
Getting there

“Noah” is performed at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at the Sight & Sound Theatre, 1001 Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. If you’re taking children to see the show, ask for seats on the center aisle for the best view of the animals.

Backstage tours of the Sight & Sound Theatre begin June 21. The cost will be $9 per person.

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, which opened in 2005 at 1600 W. Missouri 76, has added a five-acre outdoor events arena called Area 57, ideal for car and motorcycle shows. Each weekend Area 57 screens drive-in movies from the 1950s. Bring a lawn chair or blanket to throw on the ground.

Titanic: The World’s Largest Titanic Museum Attraction, 3235 W. Missouri 76, open since 2006, has remodeled the upstairs first class dining room to incorporate memorabilia from the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic.” It includes wardrobe items worn by Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates, plus a diamond and sapphire necklace similar to “The Heart of the Ocean” that appeared in the movie.

Celebration City, 1338 Missouri 376, an amusement park affiliated with Silver Dollar City, has a new water ride called Roaring Falls. Splashing through a simulated Amazon forest, the raft carrying you and your friends drops 50 feet to raging rapids below.

SIGHT & SOUND Sight & Sound Theatres was founded in 1975 by Glenn and Shirley Eshelman of Lancaster County, Pa., and entertains more than 800,000 guests a year at two theaters there.

“Noah — the Musical” debuted there in 1995. It is scheduled to continue in Branson through 2009. It will be replaced by another Bible story production by Sight & Sound. Among those are “In the Beginning,” “Behold the Lamb,” “Abraham and Sarah — a Journey of Love,” “Ruth,” “Daniel — a Dream, a Den, a Deliverer” and “Psalms of David.”

•11: Number of pieces in the interior of the ark that weigh more than 100,000 pounds.
•60: Loads of laundry done each week for the show.
•70: Surround-sound speakers in the auditorium.
•75: Wigs worn by cast members.
•300: Feet in the length of the wraparound stage.
•375: Costumes worn by cast members.
•2,000: Number of lighting instruments used in “Noah,” producing 2 million watts of light.
•2,085: Seats in the theater.
•26,550: Square feet in the stage area, including two side stages.
•339,000: Square feet in the Sight & Sound facility.

Information courtesy of The Kansas City Star

Branson Landing offers three things tourists come to Branson for — shopping, entertainment and food. And since it opened two years ago, the Landing has attracted several popular restaurants and all sorts of specialty food stores.

While the Landing is a shopping mecca, it has also become a restaurant destination for Branson residents and visitors.

The Landing restaurants offer everything from seafood to sandwiches to steaks.

Where else but the Landing could one find a Mexican restaurant within a stone’s throw of an Irish pub?

“What do people come to Branson for? They come to see shows, they come to shop and they come to eat,” said Texas Land & Cattle Steak House General Manager David Bearce.

While the restaurant has only been open since April, Bearce said it has had a good response, particularly with the dinner crowd, and attributes it to the “built in crowd” that comes with the Landing.

“People are going to ride the trolley, they’re going to window shop and after awhile they’re going to go, ‘We’re hungry,’” Bearce said.

Chris Lemons, general manager of Cantina Laredo, said the authentic Mexican restaurant stays “continually busy” and he has “a lot of regular guests” who keep coming back.

One restaurant offers entertainment and food all in one place. Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar and Grill serves its menu of specialty pizzas, pastas, burgers and more from 11 a.m.-p.m. through the week but stays open into the wee hours of the morning.

“The nightlife is our target market,” said manager Travis Fields, adding the 8 p.m. crowd is the busiest time for the restaurant because that is when the dueling pianos begin.

The spirited pianists can keep the tunes going until after 1 a.m., performing an eclectic array of jukebox favorites and Top 40 hits to entertain the crowd long after the kitchen has closed.

Visitors will soon have three more restaurants to choose from when they come to the Landing. Shorty Smalls will open at Gage’s Branson Landing Marina and Shops later this month and following later this summer will be a Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Mama Milano’s Italian Restaurant.

Not to be forgotten are the specialty food stores at the Landing. Those in search of a quick bite rather than a sit down meal can get a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s, a slice of pizza from Chicago Gyro’s & Pizza or a sandwich from Charley’s Grilled Subs.

“The options are abundant,” said Tammy Scholten, director of marketing for the Landing. “Whatever your palate prefers the Branson Landing restaurants are certain to satisfy your appetite.”

Information courtesy of Branson Daily News