Sunday, June 21, 2009
Here's the link to the article
I'll also copy and paste it for those of you that are too lazy to click on a link. My copy and and paste version doesn't show the pictures because I am too lazy to save and insert them. =)~
Families that sing together...go to Branson
Randall Murphree - Guest Columnist - 6/18/2009 10:15:00 AM
The Hughes family epitomizes a Branson, Missouri, tradition of families entertaining families. Entertain is one key word, and family is the other for this small Ozark Mountain city that bills itself as America’s live music capitol. (Some say world capitol.) Branson boasts more than 100 shows performing in 53 theaters with 60,000 seats -- more seats than Broadway has.
One remarkable aspect of this family-friendly town is that it seems most of the head-liners are families performing together. The five Hughes Brothers have been singing together for 30 years, half of them in Branson. When they began, Andy, the youngest, was two years old.
They’ve got a lot to show for three decades, not the least of which is five talented wives who join them dancing and singing onstage. And no small assortment of their 27 children, from teens down to toddlers, steal the show from time to time at the Hughes American Family Theatre on the 76 Strip, heart of Branson’s music mecca. They lay claim to the title “World’s Largest Performing Family.” Anybody want to argue?
Before the show one Saturday morning this spring, Lena Hughes, known affectionately as M&M (mom and manager), took time to give me a little family background before I talked with Jason (a brother) and his wife Mara.
One little aside: Dad Gary Hughes’ name tag says “Chief Indian” and he does his fair share of the grunt work around the place, manning a product booth, training grandkids to run light and sound, making sure everything runs smoothly. From my perspective, however, Gary’s most important role is to oversee Papa Hughes’ Fudge Shop. Don’t skip the fudge! Now, back to the music.
“We started off at Silver Dollar City,” Mom recalls. “I thought we’d be there for five years, but we were only there for four months before we were given an opportunity down here on the strip. We came to this theater in 2000.” Silver Dollar City is a family theme park a few miles outside Branson, and it’s not uncommon to hear Branson’s top entertainers say they got their start there.
Not just a bunch of brothers
In the Hughes Brothers show, you’ll enjoy the tight harmonies that are often the trademark of siblings, especially those who’ve sung together for 30 years. And you’ll like the show’s mix of music. “Danny Boy” and their medley of “The Sound of a Man Workin’ on a Chain Gang/Sixteen Tons” were among the old favorites I enjoyed.
M&M likes to brag on her boys, but she is also quick to point out that they married extremely talented girls, and the Hughes wives -- and children -- add the perfect complement to the show.
Ah, yes, the children -- the piece de resistance. Who cannot be charmed by talented kids onstage? From Aaron and Christina, teens with an admirable level of mastery of the violin (or fiddle, as the tune dictates) to Jessie’s cover of “I Want to be A Cowboy’s Girlfriend,” to a whole passel of the next generation singing show tunes such as “No Business Like Show Business” and “Do Re Mi,” you’ll enjoy the family balance they bring to the show.
The Hughes tribute to veterans and to America sparkles with a moving, colorful delivery of “America the Beautiful,” well said and well sung.
With transparent humility, Jason and Mara reflect on the journey from their native Utah to a Branson stage by remembering those who helped them along the way.
“There was one person after another,” Jason says. For example, Merrill Osmond saw them performing their last show at Silver Dollar City and invited them to open for the Osmonds. Then a theater owner saw them there, and invited them to audition for another show.
They say it’s been like that through 15 years now, even including the purchase of their theater. They had all their ducks in a row when the bank deal fell through at the last minute, and an impossible deadline loomed just ahead. Then a small locally-owned bank came into the picture.
“This little bank called their committee together,” Mara says, “they worked all night, they put the whole thing together and covered the whole loan for us in one day -- what other banks said they couldn’t do in three months.”
Not just any theater
The Hughes Family Theatre is not just any theater on the Branson scene. It boasts the ambience and style of older theaters -- wider aisles, roomier seats, more leg room. It’s also a Branson landmark, the first fine theater built on the 76 Strip 20 years ago. The original owner brought in Roy Clark, and the theater became known as the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre.
“That’s what started the big names coming to town,” Mom says. “There’s a plaque in the lobby that has all the big names that originally performed in this theater.”
The Branson music industry celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, having its roots in the Baldknobbers’ downtown show and the Presleys’ first metal-building theater on the strip. Still, the Hughes American Family Theatre owns a legitimate slice of Branson music history.
Branson has something to entertain you day and night -- magic and museums. Breakfast shows, dinner shows, showboat cruise shows. Fishing, hiking and camping. Roller coasters and water parks. Comedy, variety and cowboy shows. Ozark mountain train tours, Ride-the-Ducks land-and-lake tours. Upscale shopping and discount malls, quaint crafts and historic downtown shops.
But when it comes to the music, the Hughes Brothers represent the best of the town -- family, God and country.
“This is a dream come true for us, “Jason concludes. “Not only to entertain -- that’s kind of the cherry on the top. The great underlying thing is that we get to work together as a family. Not only does that bring us close as a family. Sometimes, when we portray the family on the stage the way we do, it inspires families. Being a family, being together, is not only healthy and a good thing, but it’s cool. It’s something our society really needs.”
(interview that was included on the next page)
ONN writer Randall Murphree interviewed Lena Hughes (mom and manager) and Jason (one of the Hughes brothers) and Jason’s wife Mara before a recent show at the Hughes American Family Theatre, a Branson landmark first known as the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre.
ONN: What brought the Hughes family to Branson?
Lena: The boys were getting a little older and were refining their talents, and all of a sudden for about two years we were constantly getting bombarded with the idea of going to Branson. We’d never heard of it, but everybody would say, “You guys belong in Branson” or “Have you ever thought about going to Branson?”
After that, they won first place in a national contest in Las Vegas, and that gave them a recording package in Nashville. I realized that maybe we could hit Branson on the way back home from Nashville to Utah. As we learned more about Branson, we realized that the shows here are about family and God and country, all those values that we believe in.
ONN: What ages were the boys when they won the Nashville deal?
Lena: About 16 through 26. We thought just for the fun of it, we would see what Branson was all about. I was hoping to get an audition or something, but I couldn’t even get past the front desk, let alone talk to a manager.
I had a promotional DVD, so I asked a friend who was in entertainment, “Would you review this DVD and see if it’s any good?” He said, “I’ve got someone even better that can do that.” His friend was director of the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, and he reviewed the DVD and said, “Before I talk to you about your DVD, I want to know why you guys aren’t in Branson.”
I told him my experience, that I didn’t know how to talk to anybody there. He said, “No problem. I know everybody.” He kind of opened the doors for us to get started.
We started off at Silver Dollar City in 1994. I thought we’d be there for five years, but we were only there for four months before we were given an opportunity down here on the strip. We came to this theater in 2000; we were just leasing a spot until 2000.
ONN: What is the history of this theater?
Lena: Jim Thomas, the man who built this theater was one of the first entrepreneurs who saw the vision of the town. This is called Branson’s landmark theater because it was the first theater built on the strip.
The Baldknobbers were performing in a barn and the Presleys at the cave, but they didn’t have the nice theaters they both have now.
This theater is about 20 years old. It’s a great theater and a great location. Thomas brought Roy Clark here. They called it the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre and that’s what started the big names coming to town. There’s a plaque in the lobby that has all the big names who performed here.
The names of these entertainers are written on the walls backstage -- everybody signed their signatures back in the dressing rooms. The walls were kind of a putrid green color. When we took over the theater, the boys said we ought to paint backstage and clean it up.
I said, “Well, wait a minute. Those names are the history of the theater. We can’t just paint over them.” So they ended up painting around the names. So now we have a green and white cow-print wall. Everywhere there’s a name, there’s a green area around it.
They did paint over one name they didn’t recognize, so they didn’t think it was anybody. The name was Richard Clark -- Dick Clark.
ONN: How has the Hughes family changed since coming to Branson?
Lena: When the boys first came, the show was just the five brothers, and two of them were married. The oldest had a little toddler and a newborn. Now we’re expecting grandchild number 27. We’re celebrating our fifteenth year in Branson this year.
ONN: Jason, were any of you on a different career path before coming to Branson?
Jason: Sort of -- but related. I was studying music, dance and theater. Marty was a performance media-music major, and Adam was studying film.
ONN: What kind of challenge was it, the transition from home to Branson?
Jason: I think it was different for each of us. For me it was an easy transition. We were newlyweds, and I had just finished school.
Mara: I was expecting our first when we moved here. I was about seven months pregnant. It was fun though; it was an adventure.
Jason: There was nothing to lose, really, in coming out here. Our youngest brother, Andy, left just before his senior year in high school. All five brothers had gone to the same high school and it was kind of his year to be the big guy at the high school. I don’t think he cared for that.
ONN: Who helped you most in Branson in making a transition?
Jason: I don’t know if there’s one individual necessarily -- there was one person after another; each one was one little part.
Mara: Somebody was always there. We had this three-month job at Silver Dollar City and, when that contract was up, we were thinking, “What are we gonna do? Where are we gonna go?” That time, it was Merrill Osmond who saw them perform the last time at Silver Dollar City and invited them to come and open for the Osmonds. They did that for a couple of weeks and somebody happened to see them there -- a theater owner who said, “Hey, can I see you to audition for our show?”
ONN: How did you wind up buying this theater?
Jason: The previous owner kept driving by our [previous] parking lot and realized we had a lot of coaches, and just kind of checking us out. He was the first theater owner here in town to build a theater just to do shows. He was bringing in big name acts. But after a while, he realized there was not enough profit to have a middle man involved. So he decided it would be better to lease the theater, and in order to entice us, he gave us an option to buy.
After the five-year lease, we exercised that option. We ended up having to scramble to get financing. Normally on a commercial building like this, it’s a year to six months to get financing. We ended up starting on it with three months. Three banks approved us, but two told us there was just no way they could do it in that time frame.
The last bank also fell through at the last minute, but one miracle after another occurred, as things that normally take months to do, we were able to do in a week.
Mara: We asked for an extra 24 hours, and the previous owner would not give it to us.
Jason: He had a couple of other buyers interested. So Mom got on the phone and started calling anyone in town she thought might have enough money to lend us for a week.
Mara: And this little local bank called their committee together and worked all night. They put the whole thing together and covered the whole loan for us in one day -- what the other banks said they couldn’t do in three months.
Jason: That kind of goes to show what the problem is with our nation -- with nationalized banks and internationalized -- too much power and too much influence [too far away].
ONN: What is the biggest challenge for a family doing what you’re doing here?
Jason: Getting up early enough to bring the whole family in for an interview. Sometimes I say the greatest miracle of the show is when all the kids make it out onstage on time...
Mara: ...fully clothed! It’s great that we have such a good team. We have to help each other out.
Jason: Our wives work together probably better than we brothers do. Like yesterday, we have this new costume we wanted to put in the show by today. So all the little girls have to have shoes. Mara was about ready to drop everything she had to do and go to every store to find the shoes. But then, Vicki said, “Hey, I don’t have that much to do. Why don’t I go do that?”
Mara: We get it done.
Jason: A rehearsal is called at the last minute, or occasionally extra things, like interviews or an extra appearance here or there. Communication might not happen from upstairs [offices] to down here.
We had plenty of notice [for this interview] this morning!
Mara: He had plenty of notice! The biggest communication problem is that somebody talks to one brother and he says, “Sure, we can do that.”
Jason: That’s probably one of the hardest things -- communicating to everybody. There are the five brothers and Mom and Dad and we’re all the boss. People will tell one of us something and think they’ve told all of us.
ONN: What’s the best thing about performing in Branson?
Jason: This is a dream come true for us. Not only to do entertainment -- that’s kind of the cherry on the top. The great underlying thing is that we get to work together as a family. Not only does that bring us close as a family. Sometimes, when we portray the family on the stage the way we do, it inspires families. Being a family, being together, is not only healthy and a good thing, but it’s cool. It’s something that our society really needs.
Friday, June 12, 2009
The kids in the family got yummy cookies again. There is a family that brings them cookies every once in a while and they are always adorable. This time they got Mickey Mouse Ears in fun summer colors. At Christmas they got rice krispy treats that were in the shapes of trains and bears and decorated with frosting.
Here is what the card said:
Thank you for the wonderful job you do of entertaining all the people that visit your show. You are truly "professionals" in every sense of the word. Your Christian goals and attitude make a difference in so many lives that you touch. Keep up the good work!
We love you all! See you soon.
Don, Nancy and Chris
Saturday, June 6, 2009
This year the squirrel has been sitting in my pots and attacking the birdseed bags on our deck. There are also a couple of chipmunks that have joined in the fun this year. Oh yay. It IS pretty funny because the squirrels keep ganging up on the chipmunks. They are constantly chasing each other off. I followed one of the chipmunks the other day to try and figure out how far he is traveling to our deck. I followed him around to the front of our house, up the driveway, across the street and up the hill of our neighbor's house. His cheeks were packed pretty full when I saw him last. I'll need to take a few pics of those guys next.