KING OF BRANSON
He does, however, make a point of giving the audience several country classics like "Jambalaya" and the "Orange Blossom Special", but he frequently strays far beyond what an audience might expect from a performer who has made his name in a town known for live country and western music. Especially impressive is Tabuchi's rendition of the haunting theme from the Phantom of the Opera, accompanied only by colored lasers and a fog machine workingt overtime. Another showstopper is his violin solo of the theme from the movie Ice Castle which, he says, is his favorite piece of music. With Mozart's A Little Night Music Tabuchi reveals his classical roots.
This being the Christmas show, he and his 16-piece orchestra perform several Christmas numbers. In one called "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", involving Santa, Santa's helper and a troop of goofy reindeer, Tabuchi displays his talent for gentle clowning around. Later, Tabuchi displays a more ascerbic edge to his wit when he gives a Japanese translation of a rap song parody performed by one of his musicians. The number is well done and surprisingly funny. There isn't a Black face in the audience, but the hip fun the number seems to poke at Black urban culture is greeted by restrained, slightly uncomfortable laughter from the all-White audience.
The show never loses sight of the fact that its audience is drawn from neghboring Bible Belt states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the grand finale of the Christmas show, four angels--winged, haloed, white-robed and suspended on translucent cables--swoop down over the front rows of the theater dispensing show biz blessings to a delighted audience. In these parts, religious sentiments are a dependable way to capture an audience's heart.
The Shoji Tabuchi Theater is known for putting on Branson's most lavish productions.
Only at the show's conclusion does the audience, myself included, learn that Dorothy is resting at home with the flu and that one of the female singers has been filling in as host. The two ladies from nearby Springfield who are sitting next to me express with polite groans their disappointment at not having seen the lady of the house. Throughout the show they had been speculating as to the identity of the woman who has been filling in as MC. The show has been an immaculately--not to say antiseptically--produced and executed sampler of contemporary American entertainment seen through Midwestern eyes, a heaping plate whose wholesome contents have been gratefully consumed. Two thousand satisfied souls shuffle reluctantly out of the theater--their smalltalk constituting the equivalent of after-dinner toothpicking--and disperse over the expansive parking lot. Moments later, just as the theater has emptied, the star, still in his dazzling white jacket and black trousers, strides out from behind the curtains, chats briefly with the stage manager and hurries up the aisle to the lobby and out to the rows of tour buses parked in a special bus zone in front of the lobby. On this cold mid-December evening, 16 buses wait for Tabuchi to make his appearance for a few last photos and handshakes for the road. Among them are two smaller church buses. According to Tabuchi's corporate manager Norm Jewell, in the peak summer season as many as 32 buses show up for each performance. PAGE 4