It always begins with darkness. Then bright lights cause the audience to focus on the stage, from which the sounds of instruments and harmonizing voices fill the theater. Soon after, audience members find themselves tapping their feet and marveling at the talent unleashed for an evening’s entertainment.
Music can serve as a powerful way for travelers to connect with a destination. Instead of watching a touring production that your church group members could experience in their hometown, consider choosing a theater that produces its own musical performances.
Enthusiastic local performers can create personal theater experiences unlike those of productions with traveling casts. Whether a historic musical revue at an established theater like the Carolina Opry or a performance at a more recent attraction like the American Mountain Theater, faith-based groups will find joy in locally produced live musical revues.
Andy Williams Moon River Theatre
[ Branson, Missouri ]
When Andy Williams first built the Moon River Theatre in 1992, he became the first noncountry performer to open a venue in Branson. That pioneering move helped Branson become the mecca of live music venues that it remains today.
Though Williams passed in 2012, the theater continues its musical performances with the shows “An Evening With the Lennon Sisters,” “The Osmonds’ American Jukebox” and the “Andy Williams Christmas Show.”
“‘The Andy Williams Christmas Show’ has always been a staple here that would bring in various guest stars,” said Icy Wyatt, group sales manager. “Since Andy passed away, the Osmonds and Lennon Sisters have hosted the Christmas Show.”
The Lennon Sisters and the Osmonds performed with Williams several times on his television show, “The Lawrence Welk Show” and in the Moon River Theatre. The two famous families join other productions regularly featured at the theater, including “Rick Thomas, Illusionist” and the “Three Redneck Tenors.”
“I think the variety of shows and music is what sets our theater apart,” said Wyatt. “We have so many different shows. It’s not that we have one or two, but we have nine main shows and then many others on the weekends.”
The theater’s lobby serves as a museum dedicated to Andy Williams, with pieces of art, photographs and artifacts from his personal collection. The Moon River Theatre’s design, which won the theater a Conservation Award for Developed Land Use in 1992, harmonizes with the surrounding Ozark Mountains. The 48,000-square-foot structure sits amid 16 acres of landscaped foliage, rock formations and waterfalls.
American Mountain Theater
[ Elkins, West Virginia ]
In 2002, Susie Heckel felt called by God to bring a Branson-style live music theater to Elkins, West Virginia. After years of staying up nights sketching stage designs and thinking up musical numbers, Heckel’s dream came true in 2007 with the opening of the American Mountain Theater.
Housed in the historic Elkins Railyard, the brick building features a 527-seat modern auditorium to house the theater’s “Premier Two-Hour Show,” “History of American Music Show,” “Christmas Spectacular” and “Southern Gospel and Bluegrass Concert Series.” The “Premier Two-Hour Show” showcases the musical talent of the Due Time Band with comedy skits woven throughout.
“It is truly a variety show,” said Meggan Sexton, vice president of operations. “We do all types of music, from Dolly Parton to ZZ Top to big band. So it is a little bit of everything.”
The fast-paced “History of American Music Show” starts with the Charleston and moves through the popular musical styles of the 20th century. For church groups looking for a religious theme, American Mountain Theater’s “Southern Gospel and Bluegrass Concert” series rotates regional gospel music talent throughout the season.
“For groups, we also have a packaging department that arranges tickets with us, as well as a scenic train ride, restaurant and hotel package,” said Sexton. “We can put the whole trip together for them, not just the show.”
Church groups can choose from a number of packages, including the Two-Night Getaway, the Christmas Getaway, the Gospel Weekend and the Victorian Escape.