American Kitsch

Years ago, Dennis Miller–when he was funny–referred to Branson, Missouri as Las Vegas for people without teeth. Twenty years later, Miller’s revelation still hits the mark, despite the advent of implants and veneers.

While attending a sold-out concert featuring the Oak Ridge Boys at the Mansion Theater,

Oak Ridge Boys1 (2)

it was hard not to notice the adoration of a graying audience. Women wearing shades of autumn-colored hair to complement their leopard print outfits seemed to swoon through an earnest and sincere set of gospel-laced ballads and patriotic country-swing tunes, while their stoic significant others, coiffed in their stiff anywhere/anytime cowboy hats, eventually removed them, perhaps taking a cue from William Lee Golden during his performance.

‎ORB William Lee Golden

Upon returning to the parking lot after the show, we noticed how haphazardly most vehicles were parked, with little regard for lane assignments. It could have been a freeze frame from a demolition derby. Few could recall where they parked their trucks or SUVs, so collectively pressing the alarm buttons on their keys produced a cacophony of blaring horns and flashing headlights that continued to frustrate a clueless crowd.

Of course, things are no better on the roads. The yellow, blue and red routes always appear to be congested, because drivers can’t get out of their own way, and nobody knows where they’re going. Unfortunately, turn signals are no more than car decoration.

Or maybe the sites on the edge of the road are so compelling that traffic snarls are to be expected.

What follows is a sampling of some of the roadside attractions that caught my attention.

ferris wheel

fork and meatball

King Kong




chicken dinner

P.S. We found our truck in the Mansion lot, and found our way back to the Airstream, but it took forty minutes to travel four miles.




Poetry in Motion

Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai and their rival, Acrobats of China compete daily for the attention of visitors in an already crowded field of Branson venues showcasing music and variety entertainment. The two maintain similar visions–featuring acts displaying power, balance and artistry. But because one theater was closer to the Airstream than the other, and with available seats closer to the stage, and for a few dollars less, Leah and I chose the Shanghai troupe for our evening out on the town.

We arrived during a warm-up act with two costumed chickens made of paper, and a clown blowing a whistle. The sparse crowd was disinterested, generating a smattering of applause.

The theater was dingy and the seat cushions had lost their springs many summers ago. It was the first freeze of the season, and the concrete floor was sending chills through the soles of my shoes. It made me check my watch, and wonder how much longer we would be here.

By the time the lights had dimmed and the curtain pulled, the audience and I were hoping to be amazed.

This was NOT Cirque du Soliel: the set design featured a lit cyclorama and necessary props on a short and shallow stage; the costumes were functional and simple (with the exception of traditional animal puppets); and the music track was borrowed from a Chinese elevator.

But the young acrobats, mostly in their mid-twenties, were enthusiastic performers with towering talents,

chair tower

and well-rounded abilities–demonstrating precision and grace throughout their respective routines.

Thematically, the acts seemed to showcase a variety of spinning stunts. Around and around went the table, hoops, and vases.

circle and square before

circle and square

hoops before

Hoops after

Around and around whirled the ninjas in their karate sequences, and the aerialists in their pas de deux.



Around and around, the contortionist twisted her body into wincing pretzel postures.



When the show ended to rousing applause, Leah and I crossed the lobby to inspect an easel of audience portraits stuffed inside commemorative frames with plenty of room for acrobat autographs…and available for purchase at only $20 a piece.

While we enjoyed the show, we quickly decided against sticking around for the  meet and greet, as the acrobats lined up to express their gratitude, but seemed more uncomfortable with both feet firmly planted on the ground.