By Dave Woods
BRANSON, Mo. —
I wasn’t sure what the Andy Williams Christmas Show would be like without Andy. The legendary performer with 18 gold and 14 platinum albums under his belt died in October, following a yearlong struggle with cancer. Any performer who can sell more than 40 million records during a career is a legend.
His TV variety and Christmas specials entertained millions of fans for decades. He discovered the Osmond Brothers and the Lennon Sisters (and brothers) and made the careers of many more great talents possible.
How is that kind of talent replaced? I suppose you don’t even try. But as Andy would want, the show must go on.
It does. With the help of dozens of Andy’s friends and longtime entertainment collaborators, tens of thousands of his fans will again remember “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Andy’s version of “Most Wonderful Time” has become one of the most popular Christmas songs in history, since debuting in 1963.
Even though Andy is gone, his spirit and style live on during his signature Christmas show. Make no mistake, it’s still Andy’ show. His fingerprints and signature style are all over it.
“It’s a show Andy had a hand in producing,” said Lynn Meredith, general manager of the theater. “He selected many of the artists and collaborated on the music and routine and run and flow of the show and was really influential as he always was, especially this year as he was ill.”
Through Dec. 12, the Andy Williams Christmas Show will draw thousands of Andy fans into Moon River Theatre for a nostalgic look back at a special kind of Christmas celebration — a kind of Christmas celebration that marks Andy’s 74 years in entertainment.
Lynn worked closely with Andy to stage the holiday show. I caught up with him before the show.
“It’s a great show,” Lynn said. “It is getting great reviews, and the power singers we have brought in are awesome. Katie Stevens from season nine of ‘American Idol’ and Alan Asbury from the Gaither Family Singers are so impressive.”
Both provide impressive holiday musical sets. Variety is key to the two-hour show’s success.
“We have quick-change artists, specialty dancers, a great band, dancing reindeer and singing impressionist Bob Anderson,” Lynn said of the show’s longtime regulars. “There is great variety. It’s the biggest production in Branson.”
Bob Anderson, a regular on Andy’s stage, provides a solid set of celebrity musical impressions and does a reverent Andy tribute of his own. The Lennon Brothers and Gail Lennon, brother Bill’s wife, swing their way into the holidays with a ’40s inspired medley.
I’m always amazed by the Lennon clan. Their talents are impressive, but the number of them with that “Lennon” talent is amazing.
Dean Clark, a speed fiddle player familiar to Moon River audiences, brings some country flair to the lineup. The Cat’s Pajamas add a capella talent to the show. Michael Cathcart, a Lennon nephew, was often recognized by Andy for his vocal prowess. He gets the spotlight near the show’s end for a solo, of which I suspect Andy would be proud.
By design, Andy’s presence seems clear throughout the show.
“It follows his format,” Lynn said. “He designed it and has been very successful. We follow that formula.”
This year Andy wanted to bring some new, younger vocalists.
“We’ve always had beautiful singers,” Lynn said. “Andy was always a smooth but powerful singer and that’s what he wanted for the show. So we brought in power singers who can sing the big songs.”
The younger group Lynn landed for the show is Voices of Glory, a soulful trio that adds a fresh element to Andy’s lineup.
“They are absolutely phenomenal singers,” Lynn said. “They are three African-American kids who are fantastic,” he said of the 13-, 16- and 20-year-olds. “They are wowing the crowds. We are getting standing ovations throughout the second half of the show, which is hard to do without Andy on stage. We feel pretty good about it.”
Near the show’s end, a vintage clip of Andy appears projected on a giant screen. It’s the Andy I want to remember. Young, talented and forever cool. Larger than life.
It’s nothing new if you are an Andy fan. It’s Andy’s moment. A moment for him to remind folks in song that Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year.