Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley hits the big time shows of Branson, part 1


Branson, Mo. has, deservedly, built a solid reputation as “The Live Music Show Capital of the World”, with over 100 shows, spanning a wide variety of genres on the world famous 76 Country Boulevard “Branson Strip.”

Superstars including Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, Johnny Cash and countless others performed mini- residencies and/or opened up theaters of their own in this remarkable city, where throngs of adoring fans could get an up close and personal live experience with their idols.

Now, musicians, family bands, acrobats, comedians, magicians, and countless other artists call Branson home, providing live entertainment enthusiasts a magical experience unlike anything they could hope to find elsewhere.

Hosting an impressive (approximately) 7.2 million tourists per year, and counting, Branson has cemented its status as a premiere family entertainment vacation destination.

It’s also one of the only places in the world where you can find a vast selection of massive family bands!

This is part one as I track down the “Best of the Best” Shows you will not want to miss on your next trip to Branson:


Founded in 1967 and brandishing the honor of being one of the longest running shows in Branson (and the city’s first ever live music theatre), Presley’s Country Jubilee is a long-standing tradition with a large base of loyal fans, who return season after season to enjoy the show’s delightful blend of zany comedy, toe-tapping country, gospel, and blue-grass music, world class instrumentals (highlighting the talents of Mark Pearman, who owns the Pickin Porch you can read all about in our “Dining Spotlight”) and a palpable, joyous energy that truly embodies the magic of live theatre.

Cecil, the iconic beloved resident “comic relief”, a hilariously hapless character donning duct tape sunglasses and high-water pants, is portrayed with pitch perfect timing by Eric Presley (whom has been performing in the show and preparing for this role since babyhood). The laughs keep on rolling with Cecil’s dad, Herkimer (portrayed by Eric’s equally hilarious real-life dad, Gary), whom has been portraying the role for over five decades and counting. Keeping the tradition alive, Eric’s own son, joins the show for a charming and very funny bit as “Young Cecil,” who you can catch on many brightly colored Presley’s Jubilee billboards, peppered throughout the Ozarks.

(Special thanks to Ronda Shannon for taking such great care of us during our visit.)


PHONE NUMBER: (417) 334-4874



Living up to its name, the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre is nothing short of grand with a unique oriental design aesthetic, massive seating space (often selling out for concerts and special events), and large staging area. Offering top notch residencies by music legends and world-renowned acts from Las Vegas and beyond, you will truly find something for everyone in the family at this Branson Landmark. One theater boasts four incredible shows that you absolutely must see on your next trip to Branson.



Mickey Gilley, whose hit bar, Gilley’s was the set of the 1980s film, “Urban Cowboy” starring John Travolta, had 39 hit songs throughout his illustrious career, 17 of which shot to the top of the country charts. This helped make him the icon that he is today. Keeping in the tradition of so many stars before him, Gilley gives his ardent fans an opportunity to have an intimate, personal concert experience with him, as he takes you on a journey through his impressive roster of hits. Gilley has maintained the same spark, wit, and enthusiasm for which he has always been beloved, and standout moments include film excerpts from the “Urban Cowboy” filmed at his namesake bar, music videos, as well as charming and hilarious stories about the inspiration and creative process behind his biggest hits that we all know and love.

Gilley maintains a self-deprecating humor as he lovingly pokes fun at his songwriting skills (“or lack thereof,” he quips), specifically referencing the song “Ooh Wee Baby” — a song of which he was quite embarrassed– but was later picked up for an international Yoplait Yogurt commercial, for which he was paid a handsome fee.

Look out for my interview (Backstage Pass on FCB/IHeart Radio) with this legendary artist as he chats about the secret behind his career longevity, surviving plane/car crashes, monkey bites and more.



The crooner behind the 1980 single, “Lookin’ for Love” (a crossover hit that spent three weeks at number 1 on the Billboard country singles chart while also appearing in the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and Top 10 on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart) performs his hit song and many other popular numbers throughout the opening first half of the show.

His deep, raspy vocals haven’t changed a bit over the years. His music videos, several which play throughout the course of the show, take you on a journey back through time. Backed up by a stellar band and award-winning female vocalist (who performs a riveting solo rendition of Little Big Town’s, “Girl Crush”), Johnny Lee also treats audiences to his other hits, including “You Could’ve Had a Heart Break,” “Cherokee Fiddle,” “Pickin’ up Strangers,” “One in a Million,” and, a touching tribute to his daughter, Cherish Lee, who also happens to be an excellent songwriter.

Listen to our exclusive interview with Johnny Lee on IHeart Radio/FCB at


Featuring a rotating line up of performers from all over the world, the Shanghai circus offers an exciting and eclectic mix of edge-of-your-seat acrobatics, colorful dance, hilarious comedy, mystifying magic, and numerous dizzying displays of dexterity and feats of aerial strength, quite unlike anything you have seen before. Exercising more variety than ever and bringing to the stage a more “Cirque” approach to the art of variety performance, the Shanghai Circus pays homage in several distinct ways to the old, historic Shanghai culture. Highlighting the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai, who are currently celebrating over 22 years in Branson, sword swallowing, nails hammered straight into the nose, extreme body contortion and flying high above the audience with nary a safety net, is just another day at the office for these daring performers.




Comprised of multitalented country singer, JC Fisher, pop singer Marcus Collins, and opera singer, John Hagen, The Texas Tenors gained worldwide acclaim after placing top 4 on the popular television competition series, “America’s Got Talent,” making them the highest-ranking vocal group in the show’s history.

Since their appearance on the show, The Texas Tenors recorded their first PBS special with the Phoenix Symphony, featuring songs from their second album, “You Should Dream,” for which they garnered an unbelievable five Emmy nominations and three wins.

The immensely talented trio returned to “America’s Got Talent: The Champions,” where they further expanded their loyal fan base, and have now performed more than 1,300 concerts in 20 countries, released numerous chart-topping albums, and have even released a children’s book for a philanthropic cause.

Now, Texas Tenor super fans can enjoy the group’s Branson show, where they often perform when not touring. The fans of the Texas Tenors are quite unlike anything I’ve seen before: numerous people in the audience had seen the trio well over 400 times, brandishing head to toe “Tenor Swag”, and screaming wildly every time their idols took the stage. Their ardent admirers are truly a testimony to the groups’ talent, and you can listen to a two-part exclusive Interview with The Texas Tenors on IHeart and FCB Radio.



As a world-famous illusionist, Rick Thomas has traveled the globe performing mind-blowing magic for guests of all ages. Following his wildly successful residency in Las Vegas, a chance trip to Branson led to Thomas not only deciding to make the beautiful city the full-time location of his show, but also, his home. Thomas now delights sold out crowds at his Mansion of Dreams show, featuring outstanding sleight of hand, remarkable grand scale illusions, levitation, the classic “Sawing a woman in half” act, as well as adorable sets featuring his two massive Great Pyrenees dogs, with whom you can also take photos during a special portion of intermission.

Thomas manages to develop a warm and intimate connection, even with large audiences, and brings several lucky audience members onstage for interactive acts and memories that they will undoubtedly hold on to for a lifetime.

Keeping with the tradition of “Branson family shows,” Thomas even brought out his wife and small child at the end of the show as part of a grand finale too outrageous to believe.

Although Thomas has gained fame in the performance realm for his trained tigers, he recently relocated his tigers to a sanctuary that promotes the protection and repopulation of these majestic beings.


PHONE NUMBER: (417) 336-0888



Bringing quality family entertainment to the Ozark Mountains since 1959 (making this officially the longest running theater in Branson), the Mabe family’s Baldknobbers show is not only an essential “bucket list” item on most visitors’ vacation agendas, but also an integral part of the city’s vast entertainment history.

Named after the notorious vigilantes that took the law into their own hands from 1855 to 1889, Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers show has become synonymous with classic country, bluegrass and contemporary music, with lots of knee slapping comedy mixed in by resident comedian, Hargus Marcel (aka “Droopy Drawers”) portrayed by Jerl Adams. The brand new Baldknobbers Vintage show takes place in the afternoon and pays homage to icons in country, bluegrass and other genres that helped shape and change the face of music as we know it today.

Brandon Mabe, of the legendary Mabe family who helped shape the Branson entertainment scene, and his wife, Megan (an immensely talented vocalist, who was just awarded the highly prestigious title of “Female Vocalist of the Year” at the Branson Terry Awards) as well as an award winning cast of co-stars, including a stellar band that plays stunning live instrumentals to back up the powerhouse vocalists, all come together to create a jaw dropping production. The vintage show contains all the upbeat music, down home comedy by Hargus Marcel, glitzy costumes, and incredible vocal talent that you have grown to know and love at the evening Baldknobbers show, with an afternoon showtime that is sure to fit conveniently within your schedule. If you love the classic Baldknobbers, you absolutely must see the Vintage Show!


PHONE NUMBER: (417) 221-9281



One of the most decorated and internationally acclaimed Elvis Tribute artists in history, Dean Z (star of the touring “Elvis Lives” production) brings intense, complex choreography, powerful vocals as well as a stellar 10-piece band to the famous Clay Cooper Theater in Branson.

This high energy musical journey, celebrating the legendary career of arguably one of the most iconic performers of all time is set apart from other tribute shows by the glossy retro aesthetic of everything from the stage decor, the costumes, and dance moves, creating an air of nostalgia that whisks you back in time to when the sock hop and doo-wop harmonies reigned supreme.

Much more than merely a “tribute show”, Dean Z’s The Ultimate Elvis show is a full-fledged concert, complete with all of “The King’s” top hits you know and love (including “Love Me Tender,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Teddy Bear,” where one lucky lady in the audience received an adorable stuffed keepsake plush bear to commemorate the show experience), boasting immersive video content, a full horn section, remarkable drumming by Matt Gumm (who headlines his own show at the Clay Cooper Theater ), and the talented Dynamite Singers (one of which is Dean’s lovely wife).

Dean Z has performed thousands of shows for well over one million people globally, garnering high praise along the way from audiences and top media outlets, including the title of “World’s Greatest Tribute Artist” by EPE (Elvis Presley Enterprises), as well as the EPE’s highly prestigious “Ultimate” title, selling well over 500,000 tickets with his work through this organization. Dean Z recently took home the coveted top title of “Entertainer of the Year,” the award show’s highest title for performers.

Plus, Dean is one of the kindest, most humble performers you could ever hope to meet, always taking time out of his grueling schedule to let his loyal fans know just how important they are to him.


PHONE NUMBER: (417) 332-2529

Victoria Henley’s Backstage Pass can be heard on IHeart Radio/ FCB Radio. She writes regularly for