Ni Hao at The Y’all Come Back Saloon

Fun fact: There's a Segway racetrack at the base of the Branson water tower.
Fun fact: There’s a Segway racetrack at the base of the tower.

I returned from last week’s Hawaii work trip to a Lovely Wife in desperate need of a micro-vacation over Labor Day after two weeks of new kindergarteners. On top of that, the Darling Daughter’s birthday fell on the same weekend. There was only one thing to do…head to Branson!

There are few places in the U.S. more random than Branson, Missouri, which somehow manages to blend Bible Belt family values, Southern culture, heart-on-the-sleeve Americana, and Las Vegas kitsch into a hot mess spread across three or four ridgelines at the edge of the Ozarks. It’s the sort of place where you can ride an old Army amphibious landing craft across a nearby lake while honking on a duck call. You should try it sometime.

Speaking of Vegas, Branson is also noted as the place where Vegas headliners put themselves out to pasture when they realize that building their own theatre/shrine is a lot more profitable and easier on the joints than touring. If you build it, they will come, and they do.

Epic.After nearly draining our bank account at the Tanger Factory Outlet Center, we mulled theĀ  evening’s entertainment opportunities, threw a dart at the wall, and landed on something called The Adventures of Marco Polo, which sounded suspiciously educational and un-Branson-ish. It was that or The Twelve Irish Tenors, whom the Daughter declared “easy on the eyes.” Their show didn’t include dinner, so I vetoed that immediately. Ahem. Besides, in a town founded on the comedy stylings of acts like the Baldknobbers Jamboree, part of the thrill is paying your money and taking your chances.

And, as it turned out, it wasn’t bad at all. After a tasty, if generic, Oriental meal, we were treated to an odd hybrid of ballet, Chinese and Mongolian folk dancing, and multimedia spectacle hung on a very thin narrative framework loosely based on Marco Polo’s account of his journey to the court of Kublai Khan. The show is produced, designed, staged, and performed entirely by a Chinese company, plus a couple of Ukrainian ballet dancers who play the Italian explorers.

Like Branson itself, this whole thing conglomerated, in utter defiance of highbrow tastes and a few laws of nature, into an entertaining show. The dancers were skilled and enthusiastic, the costumes were beautiful, and the video backdrops, provided by an LED screen that spanned the stage, were vivid and panoramic. The Daughter, a self-declared “dance geek,” had a wonderful time and filled out a feedback sheet after the show, including a pointed recommendation to give the Mongolian Bowl Dancers more time up front. That’s my girl.

They didn't mind at all.And, in true Branson fashion, the performers met the audience in the lobby afterwards and posed for pictures, including this one.

The next day, we took a winery tour (Branson resides in the heart of the Midwest’s wine country. Who knew?), had lunch at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, “where the servers sing for your supper,” then headed home. Make whatever jokes you care to about flyover country and corn pone, we had fun—a lot less expensively than most of the alternatives on either the left or right coasts. We’ll be back.

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