The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 16, 2012

Dozens of shows, attractions deck halls for holiday

By Dave Woods

BRANSON, Mo. — Cindy Merry knows why Branson attracts so many visitors during the holiday season.

“I think the spirit of Christmas really comes through in all the experiences visitors have while they are here,” said Merry, a representative of the Branson Show League. “The native friendliness of Branson is contagious. Visitors get that feeling and are filled with merriment and cheer.”

Merry’s understanding of Branson’s family appeal hasn’t gone unnoticed on the national stage, either. America Online Travel recently noted Jim Stafford’s show as the No. 1 family show in Branson, she said, and USA Today spotlighted the Hughes Brothers Show for featuring the world’s largest performing family. Silver Dollar City is also often recognized as a top family travel destination by many sources.

“I think the family interaction in Branson is a tradition,” she said. “Our families spend the year entertaining your families. The word ‘family’ doesn’t necessarily mean mom and dad and a couple of kids. We get a full range of families. Grandparents with grand kids, and we have grown brothers and sisters who come into town to celebrate the season.”

Through the end of December, most theaters and attractions change up their traditional shows with Christmas-inspired staging, costumes and songs to bring the holiday to life in Branson.

Family matters

Merry points to the Hughes Brothers Christmas Show as a good example of a Branson show’s Christmas conversion.

“The Hughes Brothers (45 performers in all with a few more on the way) use the full two hours of their Christmas show to perform a traditional Christmas special,” Merry said. “It’s the kind that we all loved to see on TV, and you feel like you are in the middle of one of those. The first half of the show is all of the fun, festive things about Christmas and the second half really concentrates on the true meaning of Christmas. It presents Santa in a whole new light. That’s probably my all-time favorite Christmas show I’ve ever seen.”

Jim Stafford, a Branson veteran, handles his Christmas show in a different way at his theater on the 76 strip.

“He takes the first half and incorporates highlights from his regular show,” said Merry. “In the second half (of the show) he starts with a blank stage and creates a Christmas setting in front of everybody’s eyes.”

Stafford’s Christmas show, she said, is packed with great humor. It’s a family affair, too — Jim and Ann, his wife, have great shopping jokes that they enjoy sharing with the audience, she said.

Both Ann and Jim, as well as Shay Stafford, their son, 19, and daughter Gege, 15, perform during the show. Both Stafford kids have been performing in the show since they were just days old, Merry said.

The Andy Williams Christmas show continues this year with a great tribute to Andy, who died in September. Silver Dollar City recently debuted a  musical production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The Hamner-Barber Theater and just about every show, even Buck Trent’s Country Show, draw in some Christmas theme and features some Christmas music, Merry said.

Break from holidays

If you need a little time away from the Christmas theme, Branson has options for the Scrooges out there.

“You can always go see Kirby Van Burch Show or Acrobats of China, Merry said. “They do their magic show and the acrobats’ shows are very colorful, but don’t really focus that much on Christmas. The acrobats show features a dragon parade to celebrate the holidays, with Chinese cultural style.”

For those interested in getting out into the Ozarks for a little rest and recreation, Branson has it covered.

“Right now the trees are still gorgeous,” Merry said. “We’ve got reds and greens and gold colors on the trees. It’s been like 70 degrees recently. The Branson Zip Line Canopy Tours are just fabulous for families who like the outdoors. One features a snack break around a campfire. They operate through the end of December.”

Merry, a longtime Branson resident, says she couldn’t even count the number of Branson shows that get in the spirit of the Christmas season. Christmas in Branson is a two-month affair for the area.

“We put as much time and energy into producing a Christmas show for that short time as we do for the other 10 months of the year,” she said. “That amount of effort and production is what really causes it to rise to the level that it does. The visitors are in the mood to celebrate Christmas. The word ‘Christmas’ to most people is a real comfort word. The costumes and colors and the whole thing is a just a feel good time.”