The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

April 26, 2013

Live comedy, country music on theater's menu

BRANSON, Mo. — At the beginning of each weekly installment of “Larry’s Country Diner” on RDF-TV, Larry Black is introduced the same way.

“It’s time to chow down at Larry’s Country Diner,” the announcer says. “The coffee is hot and the gossip flows like a river. We are going to have a good time. And now, here’s the Chief Kahuna, the big guy, Larry.”

The same will happen during the live version of “Larry’s Country Diner” this season at Starlite Theater. Rob McCormick is ready for a fun season with the show’s cast of well-seasoned veterans.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Larry back with the quality of stars that he’s bringing into town,” said McCormick, marketing manager for Starlite. “We’re so excited to have original stars and original songs performed at our theater.”

In its second live season at Starlite, McCormick said interest in the homespun show has exceeded his expectations.

“The reaction has been unbelievable,” McCormick said. “We’re looking at selling out the first four shows, and May is looking really good as well. Larry’s show has become so popular. He’s been on RFD-TV for several years and reaches about a million and a half people a month.”

Regulars, surprises

Hot coffee, country-fried comedy and American music are served up each time the rural diner’s doors open, and the audience is welcomed in for a taste.

“It’s a country diner, and it has a cast of regular characters,” McCormick said of the fictional spot. “Larry is the host and owner, of course. There’s Nadine, the church lady, and Renae, the waitress. The sheriff is Jimmy Caps, who is a real-life guitarist around Nashville.”

McCormick said the live version of “Country Diner” is as funny and star-studded as the televised version. They will perform on the original diner set and feature special guests.

Musical variety and surprise guests are keys to Larry’s success. The first three televised seasons of “Country Diner” are now available on DVD.

“The fun thing about the diner is that you never know who will drop in,” said McCormick. “We have scheduled musical guests such as Joey and Rory, and Gary Morris, and we’ve got some big names for this season that we haven’t released.”

During last season’s run at Starlite, Bill Medley from The Righteous Brothers dropped in and all the Gatlin Brothers came to a show. Several Oak Ridge Boys appeared for a Rhonda Vincent performance, and country legend Mel Tillis came by for a show and served up an impromptu song.

“‘Larry’s Country Diner’ has given us an opportunity to reach out to some of these Nashville legends that, in the past, would never have performed in Branson,” he said. “Con Hunley, T.G. Sheppard, T. Graham Brown. A lot of these guys normally wouldn’t perform in Branson, but because they perform on Larry’s show they see this as a great opportunity to expand that audience. The response has been overwhelming.”

While the cast of musical guest stars is always changing at Larry’s, the diner’s crew of regular cast members keeps the audience laughing. Nadine, the church lady, is one of McCormick and the audience’s favorites.

“Nadine is a cantankerous character,” he said of the nosey busybody. “If you have been to church at any time in your life you will recognize her when you see her.”

McCormick said the live show and all of the ad-lib banter keeps the show fresh.

“There is no scripting,” he said. “You never know what might come out of their mouths. Nadine is a fan favorite.”

Even given the shows freewheeling feel, the comedy and humor is always family friendly.

“There is no blue comedy at all,” he said, laughing. “Nadine wouldn’t tolerate that one bit.”

Want to go?

“Larry’s Country Diner” at Starlite Theatre in Branson, 3115 West Highway 76 on the Strip, runs selected dates throughout the Branson season. Call 417-335-6323 or go to www.StarLiteTheatre.com for show and ticket information.

The televised version of “Larry’s Country Diner” can be found on FamilyNet and a growing number of Nexstar television affiliates. Nexstar operates KSNF and KODE TV stations in the Joplin area.

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