Branson: Keeping Current

Even those involved in Branson tourism find it hard to keep up with the ever-increasing number of attractions and shows. Shows are added or changed every year and performers move between theaters or change their schedules continuously, since Branson has shows all day long--starting at breakfast time.

Following are some of the significant developments in 1997 and plans for 1998.

Theaters
The Remington Theater, formerly the Five Star Theater, has new matinee and evening shows under the banner "Branson City Lights," featuring 100 songs and medleys performed by 40 singers, dancers and ice skaters.

Two powerhouse entertainers, Tony Orlando and Wayne Newton, will reunite this year at the 2,700-seat Talk of the Town Theatre in alternating performances. The showmen have leased the former Branson Showcase America Theatre (also formerly known as the Glen Campbell Theatre) for the next three years. Memorabilia from both performers will be on display.

The Ozarks Discovery Imax Theater has expanded its options to include screenings of major motion pictures as well as Imax films. With the addition of a 35mm projector with a special lens, the theater can now show such special-effects blockbusters as "Twister" and the latest James Bond movie, "Tomorrow Never Dies."

Also in the Imax Entertainment Complex is the new Remember When Theater, set for a late March opening. The theater will feature a 90-minute nostalgia show by Mike Radford, who brings his routine from the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead. The intimate theater, with 250 tiered seats, will feature a design inspired by a grandparent's attic, crammed with antiques and memorabilia, much of it donated by previous visitors.

Buck Trent, a two-time Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year, will bring back his breakfast show to the Dinner Belle Restaurant, a 450-seat facility. The country music and variety show will go on Mondays through Saturdays at 9 a.m.; breakfast will be served sit-down, family style at 8 a.m.

The Jim Stafford Theatre, one of the longest-running Branson venues, has added a "tornado" to a show that already has a 22-piece marching band, dancing chickens, blimps and flying saucers. Stafford, a special effects aficionado, supervised the development of the tornado, which has industrial-sized fans positioned to create a whirlwind effect. Sirens scream and thunder roars over a highly amplified sound system as outhouses and cows appear to fly through the air and Jim's own chihuahua seems to spin across the stage.

Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff continues his multimedia variety show in the new Yakov's American Pavilion, which features a gift shop in addition to the main theater.

Theme Parks
Branson's largest theme park, Silver Dollar City, opened the World's Largest Treehouse in its Geyser Gulch area last year. This gigantic, interactive children's playground in the sky is a treetop village stretching over Lake Silver, with three main towers reaching over three stories high.

Built at a cost of $2.5 million, the treehouse has main towers, smaller towers and even a courthouse. This playground in the sky is woven together by connecting rope crawls, swinging bridges and tunnels. Hundreds of interactive gadgets, moving targets, windmills, whirligigs, sirens, slides and telescopes provide action and entertainment.

Throughout the treehouse, gauges warn as pressure builds until the giant geyser in the center of the village erupts into Lake Silver. The Treehouse was Silver Dollar City's centerpiece for its National Children's Festival last summer, featuring Nickelodeon. The National Children's Festival will be repeated this year (June 13 to Aug. 23) with Nickelodeon participating again. The festival will include 100 activities for kids, with participants featuring a number of stellar names in children's entertainment.

The highlight will be Earth 2U, Exploring Geography, an interactive exhibition created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the National Geographic Society.

Building on the popularity of the World's Largest Treehouse, Silver Dollar City is this year adding Splash Harbor, a three-story ship and four-level dockside tower. The attraction will be loaded with water cannons, aqua exploders and water blasters, i.e., squirt guns galore for kids who love a good soaking.

Mutton Hollow Entertainment Park and Craft Village, which had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, was sold at foreclosure to Springfield, Mo., businessman C.H. Wehr. No plans have been announced for the attraction, which had been in operation since the early 1970s and featured craft shops and crafters, restaurants and a county fair area.

Other Attractions
The former residence of country performer Mel Tillis has been transformed into the Home of the Stars, showcasing the personal memorabilia of several local entertainers.

The kitchen of the two-story house features the high chair used by the Lennon Sisters, who now perform at the Lawrence Welk Champagne Theater. A bathroom is decorated with Boxcar Willie memorabilia, including a spittoon, and a bedroom displays items from singer Barbara Fairchild's childhood, including a teddy bear collection. Tony Orlando's dining table graces another room.

Visitors are permitted to touch and handle items on display, and even to sit on the furniture. The Home of the Stars is owned and operated by Branson-Springfield Gray Line.

The Showboat Branson Belle is launching two new shows. "Steppin' Out," featured on dinner cruises, is a high-energy show wherein singers and dancers, accompanied by an eight-piece band, segue from the traditional routines of the riverboat era to current music and dance.

On lunch cruises, "Riversong" features a musical family performing everything from country to songs of the past to interactive comedy. During the shows, passengers are served from a new menu in the paddlewheeler's 700-seat dining room. The Branson Belle is owned and operated by Silver Dollar City.

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