When you talk to Gene Bicknell, it’s obvious he loves his country, and that he is thankful for what his country has given back to him.
The native of Baxter Springs, Kan., and a successful entrepreneur, singer, songwriter and Branson
theater owner and producer, said that his love for America was never more evident than on Sept. 11, 2001.
While vacationing in Africa, Bicknell said he watched on TV as the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell after being targeted by terrorists.
Bicknell, 76, said that after the attack he was stranded for five days in a South African hotel.
It was there that inspiration struck.
“It was a couple of days after the attack that I wrote (the song) ‘Old Glory’ as a tribute to the U.S.A.,” he said. “Long story short, we came back (home) and thought, ‘What if we didn’t come back to this wonderful country?’ So, when we got back, I started writing a show called ‘Celebrate America
After five years on stage at The Mansion Theater in Branson, Bicknell said, “Celebrate America” is still going strong.
“It’s a tribute to our country set to music and dance,” he said. “It’s educational.”
With economic times getting tougher and no end to the war in Iraq in site, Bicknell suggests, Americans need to be reminded of our country’s strengths more than ever.
“It’s certainly a good time to celebrate America,” he said. “(The show) takes you back in history and shows you that we have had tough times before.”
Dam Embree, who narrates the show and leads audience members on a journey through America’s historic past, agrees with Bicknell.
“It shows us where we have all come from and that we have always been able to overcome adversity,” Embree said. And, he added, “if we come together as patriotic Americans, we always will.”
Embree said that the show is always appreciated by military veterans and active duty military personnel.
“The most moving moment of this show is when two veterans are looking for the name of a fallen comrade on the Vietnam Wall,” he said.
But veterans, Embree said, aren’t the only ones moved by the shows patriotic theme.
“We get a lot of people going out of the theater with tears in their eyes,” he said. “A lot of people say that everyone needs to see this show. One comment we get frequently is, ‘I wish every school child could see this show.’”
While several segments of the show may illicit tears and stir emotions, the show offers plenty of lighter moments, a few laughs and toe-tapping, as well as Broadway-style numbers.
“The 1904 segment is set at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis,” Embree said. “It’s an entire cast number doing ‘Hello My Baby.’”
Another part of the show that offers colorful costumes and upbeat song and dance is set in the 1940’s.
“The segment that deals with the World War II has a lot of big band numbers. ‘Swing, Swing, Swing,’ and ‘42nd Street,’ are big dance numbers featuring a lot of tap-dancing,” said Embree.
Bicknell has rewritten the show’s script a couple of times, makes changes when inspiration strikes and is optimistic about the future of “Celebrate America.”
He said he thinks Joplin-area residents need to know that when they see his show they are going to be highly entertained, have an enjoyable time, see a state-of-the-art theater and experience great hospitality.
And, he added, “If you don’t come out crying, I’ll buy your tickets back.”
Information courtesy of The Joplin Globe