Entertainment Editor’s note: With the tourism industry here in Branson facing the same crises as the rest of the world, there aren’t any shows, attractions, restaurants or other tourism-based things for your ol’ Entertainment Editor to go out and experience, then write about to share with my Loyal Reader(s).
So I thought it might be fun to see just how some of our favorite entertainers are spending their “spring quarantines.” I will do my best to have one of these stories in every issue of the Branson Tri-Lakes News until this whole thing runs its course.
Also, if any of my Loyal Reader(s) have any ideas or suggestions for entertainers, business owners or personalities you’d like to see profiled, drop me a line at email@example.com.
For 13 years, United Kingdom native Jay McManus has been a staple of Branson’s entertainment scene, and like lots of folks, he’s using his “Spring Quarantine” to spend time with his family, expand his business, and look forward to making a return to the stage.
“I love where I came from, but I love Branson,” he said. “This is where I met my wife, where we had all three of our children, and this is certainly home.”
McManus is a large part of both the “New Jersey Nights” and “Irish Tenors and Celtic Ladies” shows, as well as the new show, “Anthems of Rock” at the King’s Castle Theatre. According to McManus, he and his cast mates managed to open a few shows before the pandemic forced the closure of the theater.
“We got the ‘Irish Tenors,’ ‘Broadway’s Greatest Hits’ and ‘New Jersey Nights’ open, and we were about to open ‘Anthems of Rock,’ and we had been rehearsing our butts off for that show,” McManus said. “We were doing like 15-hour days because so much work goes into opening a new show. We aren’t copying a show from the same producer in London, this is a brand new show specifically designed for Branson.
“Anyway, we shut down the night we were supposed to open.
“Ten days was the number we were told we’d close for, then reassess it, but I watch the news and read a lot of things, so I personally thought things weren’t getting better any time soon.”
While the current regulations and suggestions are necessary to “flatten the curve,” McManus said the timing could not have been worse.
“I feel like everyone had just started getting back off the ground before this happened,” he said. “It really couldn’t have come at a worse time because really all this did was prolong the off season.”
With the first of McManus’ full time jobs on hold indefinitely, he was able to focus on his own business, Weed Whackers Lawn Care.
“I love singing, but for me, I needed another career to help make enough money to help provide my family with some finer things, so about four years ago I started a lawn care company,” he said. “It started off as one lawn here, one lawn there, then it became a lawn before my morning show, then two lawns in the afternoon, then an afternoon show, then a lawn in the evening, then a night show. Last year I was pretty much doing 12 hour days, six days a week with two full-time jobs.”
McManus said he cares for “about 20” lawns, and has a small crew.
“They’re singers and dancers as well because I like using people from the industry,” he said. “As entertainers I feel like we have an eye for the smaller things, and we do things like stripes, zig zags and diamond cuts. We don’t just turn up and skim it, then go.
“We really take care of these houses because some of the ones we look after are $1 or $2 million homes, and I actually thought people would be canceling their lawn service now with everyone having less money and more time, but that’s not the case.”
He said one of the positive aspects of the COVID-19 “quarantine” is the fact it forced them to slow down a bit.
“My wife is a full-time teacher at Cedar Ridge, so last year was a difficult time to have three full-time jobs between the two of us, plus we have three kids ages 6, 4 and 3,” he said. “It certainly was hard.”
He said his wife Caitlin has been working with their children, as well as continuing to help several school programs.
“She said apparently it’s twice as hard to do when it’s your own kids,” he said with a laugh. “But she’s been going in twice a week helping out with the prep for thousands of meals. Then the teachers load up on the yellow buses and go hand out these meals for anyone who needs them.”
When they aren’t taking care of their daily obligations, McManus said they’re taking care of this new-found family time.
“We’re just taking things a little slower, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially with our family,” he said. “In a way, we needed to slow it down because last year was a little too much ‘on the go’ for us honestly.
“We decided the other day now was the perfect time to teach them to ride bikes,” he said. “So we got them new bikes and helmets and they’ve been out doing that. We play board games, and I don’t think as a family we have ever played a board game before, but we finally got the concept that playing board games with three children under the age of 6 isn’t the most fun of things (laughs).
“But we are doing family movie night, which we don’t normally get to do because I have night shows and my wife goes to bed early. We’re getting to do lots of things like that, which other couples may take for granted, we’ve never got to do that together because our schedules are so different.”
While the McManus clan is making the best of the current situation, he said he’s very much looking forward to getting back to work at the theatre.
“It will certainly be nice to get back to entertaining and singing for everybody, and opening the ‘Anthems of Rock’ show,” McManus said. “I was so excited because rock music is kind of my genre, it’s what I love, and I was like, ‘finally, I’m going to get to sing Bon Jovi in Branson,’ then this thing hit, and I was like, ‘aw man (laughs).’
“But that show is something we all worked so hard toward and haven’t seen the feedback and results, so I’m excited to get that one open.”
Throughout the last week, there has been lots of talk about “reopening plans” for when businesses get the all-clear to return.
“For the other shows, we probably need like a day of rehearsal because they’ve already been up and running,” McManus said. “But for ‘Anthems of Rock,’ we’re definitely going to need another week or so of rehearsals. Since it never opened, it never got into our systems while learning the show.”
Like everyone else, McManus said they also have essential “go-to” foods during the quarantine.
“Our go-to food has been tacos, and for those, you need quite a bit of ingredients,” he said. “So if we’re out of one of those items, we make an essential run to the store.”