The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 19, 2012

Boy-band vibe bolsters lineup at Moon River Theatre

"Oh, What a Night" and "Cat's Pajamas's" casts infuse old songs with new energy

By Dave Woods
The Joplin Globe

BRANSON Mo. — Kory Neumann never heard of Frankie Valli before he came to Branson.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” the 16-year-old said during an intermission of “Oh, What a Night: A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.”

“They dragged me to it. I’m glad they did.”

Jennifer Rea, 16, Neumann’s friend from Fairview, Mo., teaches music and dance to children in her St. Louis-area community. Neumann, Rea and her parents came to Branson to check out the music shows.

“Coming from a musical background you realize how good it is,” Rae said. “Prepare to be shocked. It’s crazy good.”

Later that night in the same theater — and at the opposite end of the audience age spectrum — Gloria Rodrick said she enjoyed The Cat’s Pajamas Vocal Band.

“The music is from my era,” the 72-year-old resident said following the group’s a cappella performance. “I love the ’50s and ’60s music. It’s old music, but high energy.”

Performing more than a dozen shows each week, the casts of “Oh, What a Night” and the Cat’s Pajamas bring live music, dance and an old-school boy band vibe to the stage at Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, 2600 West Highway 76.  

“Oh, What a Night,” a musical tribute to the four high-singing boys from New Jersey, is backed by Williams’ house band. Cat’s Pajamas offers a trip through five decades of popular music, relies on the a cappella vocal talents of it’s five male performers.

Live music makes difference

“Oh, What a Night” cast member Christian Nielsen said having a live band backing up the foursome makes a big difference. During the two-hour show, the cast, which also includes Chris Anderson, Taylor Campbell and Jonathan Harvey, performs Four Seasons’ hits including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” “Grease” and “(December 1963) Oh, What a Night.”

“A live band has completely changed the energy of the show,” Nielsen said. “It’s so much fun to have that live energy behind us.”

Audience reaction to the live backup is encouraging. It helps many aspects of the group’s performance, he said.

“We’re not just doing the dance steps with the live band,” said Chris Anderson, the group’s dance captain. “We’re really having a great time up there.”

Branson audiences have welcomed the tribute show’s cast for a second season.

“Everybody here is friendly and amazing,” Nielsen said. “They come up and tell us their stories and their experiences and what they were doing when this or that song was popular. We love having people come up and say, ‘My wife’s name is Sherry.’ It’s just fantastic.”

New home for band

After more than three years performing onboard cruise ships, Brian Skinner, producer of The Cat’s Pajamas Vocal Band, is excited to have a more permanent home on stage at the Moon River Theatre. The five Cats enjoyed engagements at several Branson theaters before landing on their feet at Moon River.

“It’s hard to have a real relationship and raise a family (onboard a ship),” Skinner said. “So we decided to move somewhere permanently and thought Branson would be a great spot.”

The group’s big break came in 2005 when they entered an Oreo Cookie jingle challenge. That led to appearances on “America’s Got Talent,” “The Next Great American Band” and eventually “The Sing Off.”

The current cast includes Skinner as beat bass, high tenor Nate Mendl, Brad Baker at baritone, Nathaniel Adams on vocals and Mike Hilliker singing high tenor.

“Our goal is to have high energy and have fun,” Skinner said. “When you have fun on stage, the audience can tell.”

Song selection also keeps audiences coming back to catch the show multiple times. The band performs classics from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and a little bit of ’90s.

“We try to cross all generations,” he said. “We want to satisfy the grandparents and the grandkids. We love songs that involve dancing, too.”

This season’s show includes a song from an artist many Branson audience members may not know: Lady GaGa.

“We like to push the envelope,” he said of the band’s rendition GaGa’s “Born this Way.” “We try to be experimental.”