The Lope: Andy Williams Christmas Show

Monday, December 20, 2010

Andy Williams Christmas Show

(published before Williams' 2012 death)
In 2008 and 2009, I took my mom to see the Andy Williams Christmas Show in Branson, Missouri. The shows in both years were nearly identical.

I think of Branson as one of the outer rings of hell - endless threads of barely-moving traffic creeping past billboards of faux-toothless hillbilly comedians who can pull their lower lips partway up their faces. There are some nice older neon signs there, though, which afore-mentioned comedians must pass everyday when they drive their dump trucks full of money to the bank.

But I digress.

Andy Williams had enough of a classic TV retro appeal to overcome my avoidance of Branson. Those of us who revere googie architecture, boomerang Formica tables, sputnik lamps and other mid-century staples should also remember the entertainment of the period, including the television variety show. The Andy Williams Christmas Show is about the closest thing one can find to that largely-bygone experience.

It's pretty much like watching a TV variety show on that big wooden cabinet TV your family had when you were a kid, except it's live and there are no commercials for Jiffy-Pop.

Williams' voice was holding up pretty well for a singer his age. There was a flaw now and then but he was as good as the 60's and 70's rockers I tend to see now in concert, even though he's got a couple decades on them at 83 years old.

Impossibly wholesome-looking, leggy young ladies pretend to skate in in an idealized Winter wonderland. (more photos: 1,2, 3)

Williams' Moon River Theatre, built in 1991, has been featured in Architectural Digest, and won the 1992 Conservation Award from the State of Missouri. The exterior was inspired by, and built to resemble, rock formations in this very Ozarkian part of Missouri. I first heard of the theatre in a road trip episode of The Simpsons in which Nelson the bully forces Bart and company to detour to Branson where Nelson is reduced to tears by Williams' (Nelson's idol) rendition of the song, "Moon River."

The auditorium features art from Williams' impressive collection and seats 2,054, stadium-style. The sound is good all over, but it can be a long walk for older people from the front to the back or side doors.

Williams' main back-up singers were the Warnock Family.
(other photos: 1, 2)

Williams and the Warnocks performed a corny number in which they can't believe he has never seen The Sound of Music, and then all sing "Do-Re-Mi."

Williams tells good clean jokes, mostly about getting old; some of them are pretty funny. If you're liberal, don't come with a thin skin. Despite having been pals with Bobby Kennedy and having defended John Lennon when Nixon wanted to deport the Beatle, Williams is quite Republican and I've heard this emerge in his jokes to enormous applause by the apparently conservative Branson audience.

He stood at the edge of the stage as he told jokes while the set was changed between acts. In 2009 the lighting at stage edge wasn't good on the otherwise photogenic singer. It was too much above him which placed his eyes in shadow, a fact compounded by his tendency to look down a lot, as if he is reading a monitor.

The times I saw his show, Williams employed several guests - the same ones in 2008 and 2009. There was an impressionist; he did mostly rat pack era impressions, and was very good. Unfortunately, his name is not listed on the website for the show.

A side note for photographers: If you want a shot of Williams smiling and in good lighting (away from stage edge) watch him as he watches his guests, notably the impressionist. That's when he looks the most amused, and he does so from a bit farther back on stage where the light is more flattering.
(other photos: 1, 2)

Guests Pasha & Aliona did a quick change show that mystifies me. I have no idea how they do this. It's pretty hard to photograph due to fast motion and fairly dim stage lighting.

Violinist Dean Church is good enough that he wouldn't need to do weird gymnastics if he were anywhere else, but I suppose that in the intensely competitive environment of Branson, novelty counts.

During his routine, he drafted a member of the audience and makes it look like she was playing the violin.

I don't know what the name is for this act, either. Look closely; those are life-size puppets.

I've never used a hallucinogenic drug, but I did feel as if someone had slipped acid into my candy cane when the talking bear emerged and danced with the bipedal cookies. In true Branson fashion, this was preceded by a little biblical trivia between Andy and the bear.

I've been told the bear was an element of Williams' old TV variety show. (other photos: 1, 2)

There were also dancing penguins.

For some reason there was a tall Plexiglas shield around much of the backing band; you can see part of it in the background. I don't know why; perhaps someone acquainted with such shows can comment.

Williams performed Ave Maria. During this, graceful young women danced down the aisles in thin white outfits. It's really quite beautiful, but equally hard to photograph due to subdued lighting and moving subjects.

Here's last Andy Williams photo, just because I like it.
(more photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

I enjoyed the show, but would have preferred it be more Christmasy. He did a few Christmas songs and they were festive, but the four guest acts could have fit any time of year. Now, the bear - that was Christmasy - weird, but seasonal.

We didn't go back in 2010, largely because the 2009 show had been identicle to the 2008 one, even though the website in 2009 advertised an "all new" show.

A final thought about Branson: I still hate the traffic in the place, and I'm not a fan of country music shows, but the roadside architecture here is the stuff of future wonder and nostalgia. Garish today - classic tomorrow.

Some of them have impressive facades marred by visible large blocky metal buildings that house the bulk of whatever they are. You can see this to the right of the Titanic. Like Las Vegas, some buildings here have the feel of not being very permanent, so go photograph them if you like roadside vernacular. I do, and I'll be back just to record what's there. I might even see Andy Williams' Christmas show if I hear from reliable sources that it really is all new.

Other Branson Christmas stuff: Johnny Mathis, Trail of Lights


Anonymous Branson Traveler said...

Those are some really great pictures that you took! No doubt about it, the Andy Williams Christmas Show is something you shouldn't miss while you are in Branson!

Wed Jan 19, 10:50:00 PM  

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