Monday, September 7, 2009

Amateur Entertainer of the Year

They say that the strip in Branson has as many lights as the strip in Vegas.* A star-studded city, hunkered down in the hills of the Ozarks, luring tourists to the Bible Belt of America with its musical entertainment, go-cart tracks, miniature golf courses, outlet malls, and amusement parks. No glassy-eyed gamblers yanking the arm of slot machines here and spending their time and money nickel by nickel. This is the land of Wholesome Family Values, with its wide varieties of yard ornaments and wooden signs painted with cheeky phrases, the sort of place where you can see Yakov Schmirnof (you'll laugh your yak off), buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag, and indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Americana in all its tragic, hokey, misguided, enduring, and endearing glory.

We are somewhat frequent travelers to the Branson area, but we don't usually frequent most of the tourist destinations. I've got nothing against a good game of miniature golf, but with a quick weekend trip to visit D's grandparents (who don't technically live in Branson anyway), we usually hide out on the homestead and spend most of our time on the lake and in the neighborhood.

As you might suppose in a place full of live music and entertainers, one of their neighbors just happens to be a musician and comedian who has spent several years performing with Mickey Gilley -- a man by the name of Joey Riley. Joey is currently puttin on his own show in the Mickey Gilley theater and for a few minutes on Saturday night, I joined the legions of Branson entertainers with my own dance routine on stage.

Joey's wife Kelli, in addition to being ridiculously beautiful and kind and friendly with a charming southern accent, happens to be a professional dancer. She danced for years in a cajun show in Branson and now dances in Joey's show. David's grandparents have become good friends wtih them and often pet-sit when Joey and Kelli are out of town (they have a menegerie that includes various reptiles, two dogs, and three ducks). David's grandpa also has a big crush on Kelli and it is easy to see why. When Kelli found out that David and I were going to be in town, she offered to give all of us tickets to see the show. David's g-ma told her that my parents and brother were also going to be there and so she comped three more tickets for us. It really seemed to be the ideal send-off for Brandon, who leaves for Korea in just over a week.

Kelli and Joey's bulldog, Leroy, makes a cameo appearance in each show. What a mug. He does a meet and greet in the lobby after the show, where he ambles up to people and expects them to shower him with attention. And they do.

So we accepted the tickets and (after an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet that included such Asian delicacies as tator tots and mozzarella sticks) we headed to the theater for the music and comedy routine--with just a bit of audience participation thrown in for good measure.

It was the quintessential Branson experience. I really wanted Brandon to get on stage but he promised me that I would regret it if I volunteered him, so he remained seated for the entirety of the show. I, on the other hand, ended up on stage with David's grandpa as Kelli and her dance partner, Mike, selected us out of the audience to join them for a little routine on stage.

I'm on the far left. Grandpa Gene is on the far right.

It was actually really fun -- Mike was very nice and he just told me what to do and I followed his directions, spinning and twirling and whatever. The lights were bright so we couldn't see the audience and it happened so fast I didn't have time to feel awkward.

Dancing so fast our arms are blurry.

So now I have expanded my entertainment resume from "tricycle rider at minor-league ball game" to "dancer in Branson musical variety show."

David and Brandon asked for a group photo with the stars of the show. We all paused from signing autographs to oblige. Evidently Grandpa was mobbed by fans and couldn't make it into this photo.

I hear that I might be in the running for Amateur Entertainer of the Year in Southwest Missouri. But with David's grandpa and Joey's bulldog Leroy in the running, the title could be anybody's...

*By "they," I mean my friend Monica, whom I believe has been saying this for years in a tone of greatr authority and I have never questioned her knowledge of Branson.

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