Greetings my Loyal Reader(s), and welcome to the latest edition of the Branson Beat, your home for all the news on the Branson entertainment scene.
As always, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a message via our Branson Tri-Lakes News Facebook page.
Now, let’s get to it.
‘Shad heller’s Original Toby Show’ at Shepherd
After more than two decades away, “Shad Heller’s Original Toby Show” returned to Ozark Mountain Country earlier this year at the Shepherd of the Hills Historic Homestead and Adventure Park. This edition of the show is being spearheaded by Jae McFerron, a former “Toby Show” cast member who is now the show’s director.
“Jeff Johnson, the co-owner of the Shepherd of the Hills, read about the show and saw some clips on the Internet, so he approached me, and here we are,” McFerron said. “I’m so happy to be able to share this great piece of history with a whole new generation of people.”
“The Toby Show” began as a traveling, vaudeville-style show that was a simple story of good versus evil. The main character, Toby, would be a cowboy, lumber jack, a farmer or a hillbilly, all depending on the region the show was being performed, battling against an evil city slicker. At one time, more than 200 “Toby Shows” toured the Midwest.
The Branson edition of “The Toby Show” came from local entertainer Lloyd “Shad” Heller, who was a co-writer of the original “Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama” and starred as the original “Shepherd.” Heller was one of the recognizable faces in Ozark Mountain Country, stemming from his years as a blacksmith at Silver Dollar City.
In fact, Heller was called the “persona of Silver Dollar City for the first 15 or 20 years” by co-founder Peter Herschend.
In 1969, Silver Dollar City was home to the filming of several episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and Heller and his wife Mollie became friends with Irene Ryan, who played “Granny” on the show. They chatted about the “good old days,” and the subject of the old touring “Toby Shows” came up.
The Hellers took the inspiration and ran with it, opening their version of the show at the Wilderness Settlement on “The Strip,” along with a taffy shop, a blacksmith shop, and the home of the show, the Corn Crib Theatre. The Heller’s version of the show revolves around Mr. Bates, a nefarious city slicker, who tries to cheat the hapless Toby out of his land, thinking it houses a massive oil reserve.
Of course, Toby gets the last laugh and there is plenty of comedy, singing, dancing and more along the way. In addition to being a hit production, the Corn Crib Theatre also began to garner a reputation as a place that gave young actors a chance to do a “special kind of comedy.”
One of those young actors included McFerron.
“I began working there in about 1980,” he said. “I parked cars and then worked in the concession stand before I understudied a few roles. I finally got my chance to take the stage and play ‘Mr. Bates’ for a few seasons, then I did the role of ‘Toby’ until 1985.”
The show was a hit, and ran for several years before the show unceremoniously closed in 1985. Even though Heller died in 1991, “Shad Heller’s Original Toby Show” was destined to live on.
“When Shad passed away, his daughter Diane tole me at the funeral that I was welcome to do the show any time I wanted for the rest of my life,” McFerron said. “The only caveat was she asked if I would include her father’s name, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, so we called it ‘Shad Heller’s Original Toby Show,’ and it will forever be called that.”
Today, “Shad Heller’s Original Toby Show” calls the Playhouse Theatre at the Shepherd of the Hills home, and McFerron said he’s as excited as he can be to present this show, as well as keep the legacy of the show alive.
“This is the same ‘Toby Show,’ the same script, I did until 1985, and were really happy to be able to bring Dan Embree, who was in the show many, many years ago, in to play the role of ‘Zenus,’ and his wife Dana plays the role of ‘Ms. Lillian,’” McFerron said. “Then we added Tim Grassi as the city slicker ‘Mr. Bates,’ Sadie Westbrock as ‘Sweet Sally,’ and David Burgio as ‘Toby.’
“These are all new kids, which is very exciting for me to be able to give them a chance to do this kind of comedy. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I just know the folks in Branson are going to love it.”
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I sure had a great time watching the show. It is quite goofy and oftentimes absurd, but I couldn’t help myself from laughing. The presentation is old school and lots of fun, and I guarantee you won’t see anything like it anywhere else in town.
And even though it’s an “old show,” if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.
“Shad Heller’s Original Toby Show” takes the stage Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 5 p.m., but dinner is served at 4 p.m. The meal includes smoked turkey breast, barbecue pulled pork, baked beans, fire-roasted ear of corn, corn muffin, dessert and a beverage.
For more information and to purchase your tickets, visit theshepherdofthehills.com.
Yakov Smirnoff is back to ‘Make America Laugh Again’
Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian-born comedian who took the United States by storm in the 1980s and became one of the biggest stars in Ozark Mountain Country in the 1990s, is back at the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre for special shows July 4-7, and 10-13.
The comedian skyrocketed to fame in the 1980s in films like “Moscow on the Hudson,” “Brewster’s Millions,” and “The Money Pit,” as well as on TV shows like “Night Court.” He has also given command performances at the White House for several presidents and honored guests. President Ronald Reagan even called Smirnoff a “national treasure.”
In 1993, he became one of the most popular acts during the Branson boom years. Not only was Smirnoff one of the biggest “crossover” stars to hit Branson, he also became an integral part of the community as he was heavily involved in not-for-profit organizations, as well as a driving force behind several fundraisers.
In 2015, after 23 years performing in Branson, the comedian decided to step away from performing in Ozark Mountain Country. According to Smirnoff, he took that time away to pursue other ventures, including a PBS special based on his relationship classes he’s been teaching at Missouri State University called “Happily Ever Laughter,” as well as working on new material for his shows all over the country.
Smirnoff is keeping busy outside of the area, continuing his worldwide tour performing his unique comedy, and teaching courses on “Happiness and Laughter,” as well as recently earning his doctorate degree in Psychology and Global Leadership at Pepperdine University.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate America’s birthday month than hanging out with Smirnoff, a man who loves this country as much, if not more, than every one of my Loyal Reader(s).
Showtimes will be 2 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, July 7, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as July 10-13.
For more information, visit yakov.com, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, or call 417-336-3838.
Free Movie Wednesdays at Branson Meadows
One of its most popular summer traditions, “free movie Wednesdays” returns to Branson July 3 at the Branson Meadows 11 Cinema, located at the Shoppes at Branson Meadows.
During the month of July, folks are invited to stop by every Wednesday morning to pick up tickets for the show as early as 8:30 a.m. with showtime for each feature at 9:30 a.m.
The tickets are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and are available for all ages. Seating will be limited, so be sure to get there early.
The first film featured is the PG-rated “Sing,” which is slated for July 3. Starring the voices of Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane and Matthew McConaughey, “Sing” follows five contestants, a mouse, a timid elephant, a pig, a gorilla and a punk-rock porcupine, as they try to win a singing contest.
The July 10 feature is the PG-rated Dreamworks classic “Shrek.” Starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, “Shrek” sees an ogre who is suddenly forced to rescue a princess while dealing with his new best friend, Donkey.
Next up is “The Secret Life of Pets” July 17. This animated hit follows a group of animals to see what life is like when their owners are away. The cast is full of stars, including Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks
“The Secret Life of Pets” is rated PG.
July 24 will feature the PG-rated “Despicable Me,” starring the voice of Steve Carrell and the Minions. Supervillain Gru hatches a plan to steal the moon, along with his army of minions, but when he is forced to house three orphan girls, his life is forever changed.
The final Wednesday of the month, July 31 sees the PG-rated “How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World” starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Kit Harington, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett and F. Murray Abraham. The “How To Train Your Dragon” heroes Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth.
Folks will also be able to meet their favorite movie characters as well.