The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 1, 2013

Annual preview show provides plenty of variety

By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager

BRANSON, Mo. — Cindy Merry said she always gets excited about Branson's Hot Winter Fun Big Show.

"I can't wait to see it," said Merry, who volunteers for the Branson Show League -- an organization responsible for bringing the annual pre-season variety showcase to the stage. The league consists of show and theater owners and producers.

"This show lets us see some performers who are doing new things," she said. "Visitors see samples of new stuff. It's a classic type of moment that only Branson can pull off, where you bring that level of talent to one stage. The personalities of the entertainers are a great mix. It's the uniqueness of what Branson is."

Merry, a longtime Branson show and attraction promoter, said the audience is about 50 percent repeat Branson visitors and 50 percent new attendees.

"There's this connection that happens between the on-stage stars and the audience," she said. "The audience and performers feel like one big family by the show's end."

For almost two decades, Branson's best performers have been showcased in the Hot Winter Fun Big Show on the first Monday in February. This year's show will be held at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theatre on the Highway 76 strip.

"We put on the Branson Hot Winter Fun Big Show every year," said Merry. "It's a volunteer event, and the funds raised are used to market Branson. This is our 19th Big Show."

The Big Show offers tastes of several performers who often open their theaters and mount shows early in the year.

"We have 14 shows that will be performing," she said of this year's cast of entertainers. "It's done right in the middle of the winter."

The first show was staged in 1995.

"We've always had a big group from Joplin come to see it each year," she said.

The lineup

Performers volunteering their time for this year's incarnation of the Big Show include the Hughes Brothers show dubbed "It," Red Hot and Blue, Legends in Concert's celebrity impersonators and Paul Harris and the Cleverlys. Tributes to the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys from the new King's Castle Theatre (formerly the Branson Variety Theatre) will also be featured.

"Jim Barber from the Hamner Barber Theatre will be there," said Merry. "He has his own show and is a famed ventriloquist. He is also the president of the Branson Show League and the chairman of the board of directors of the Branson Chamber of Commerce. The quartet New South and Comedy Jamboree from Grand Country are scheduled. Magician Kirby VanBurch will preview the act he will open Feb. 12 at his new theater on the strip, too."

Merry said she is particularly interested in catching a taste of Tony Roi's new show, "Tony Roi, Elvis and More."

"Tony Roi will perform at the Jim Stafford Theatre this year and offers a knock-out performance," she said. "I had seen Tony, but when he started doing his rendition of ÔMy Way,' he blew my socks off. He's a great vocalist. He's expanding his show, and the Big Show is an opportunity to show off his talents."

Show sampler

Merry promises a great evening of variety for all who attend -- even the entertainers.

"One minute you are going to see and hear someone doing a little bit of bluegrass, and the next you are going to get blown away by a rock Ôn' roll Eagles song," she said. "The performers don't always get out and see each other's shows because of scheduling conflicts. It's hard when your shows are all at the same times. Sometimes some will come out and perform and you haven't really gotten to see their skills."

Bob Leftridge from the Baldknobbers Jamboree Show will lace the show together.

"Bob is one of the funniest comedians and emcees that Branson has ever had, and he does a great job," she said.

Many Branson Hot Winter fun regulars use the Big Show to sample shows and decide what to see later in the week or later in the season on return excursions to Branson.

"A lot of people come to the Big Show," she said. "They preview the acts and go see their favorite performer's full shows later during their stay."

Tickets can go fast, Merry said.

"It's a really big show," she said. "When the weather is good, it always comes close to or sells out. It's amazing."