Sunday, November 5, 2017
Christmas came early this year for the Showboat Branson Belle.
"When I was growing up, Christmas started after Thanksgiving," says Cameron Hansen, show producer for the Branson, Mo., riverboat. "But in my current role, we start researching our Christmas projects as early as May or June. So the momentum keeps building as we plan and rehearse, and by the time November gets here, we can't wait to reveal it all to our guests!"
WHEN — 4 p.m. cruises most days through Jan. 1, with noon and 8 p.m. cruises on select days
WHERE — The Showboat Branson Belle, on Tablerock Lake in Branson, Mo.
COST — $28-$55
INFO — 800-775-2628
Santa’s Pancakes & PJs Cruises
WHEN — Saturday & Sunday mornings through Dec. 23 plus noon cruises on select Sundays
WHERE — On the Showboat Branson Belle
COST — $27-$35
INFO — showboatbransonbelle.com
But Hansen, who was a performer before he became a producer, knows that "year after year, the showboat is becoming a bigger part of family traditions, especially for repeat customers. A lot of people come to Branson in spring and at Christmas, and the showboat is on the must-do list when they come at Christmas. So a lot of the music this year is brand new, and the theme is Christmas, Christmas, Christmas and more Christmas. I am a fan of Christmas by necessity."
Hansen, however, was raised for the part. His mother was a stage manager for Walt Disney World "for years and years," he says.
"My siblings and I kind of grew up under her wing, and all three of us started getting into piano lessons and singing and stuff." Hansen studied music at Brigham Young University and moved to Branson fresh out of college, "a stepping stone on the road to fame and fortune." But he and wife Bethany, who is also a performer, fell in love with the community and the Herschend family, owners of the Branson Belle and Silver Dollar City, "and we couldn't think of a place we'd rather be."
There is a formula for creating the dinner show Branson Belle audiences see. Most of it, Hansen explains, has to do with the musicians selected through auditions. "We pick music that plays to their strengths," he says. And then there are myriad surveys to find out what audiences want to hear. The Showboat demographic is shifting to include "plenty of young families," he says, and with it, the music has changed to reach across generations from 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds to their grandparents.
"It's really neat to see them singing along together," he says.
Of course, "Branson being what it is, there's an unspoken rule: Branson is God and country, and that is something they can openly celebrate here," Hansen adds. And the Christmas show will include the salute to troops that is always part of the evening. "But we're going to step away from the big patriotic finale," he says, "and do something more reverent in the middle. Then the finale will be Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!"
The "Celebrate Christmas!" show features the male vocal group The Showmen; Cassandre Faimon-Haygood, known for a voice as pitch-perfect as it is powerful; the dance troupe, Rhythm, billed as "the fastest feet west of the Mississippi"; and comedian/emcee Christopher James, plus the live band The Rockin' Dockers, along with a three-course dinner. But that's not the only offering on the Branson Belle this year. It is, says Hansen, "the only place is the country where you can get the 'Christmas-in-your-PJs' experience on a riverboat."
Santa's Pancakes & PJs cruises invite the whole family to wear their holiday pajamas for a treasure hunt-themed romp around the huge paddle-wheeler's four decks. Kids can visit Sugar Plum Fairy Sweet Stops, see the Captain in the Pilot House for a special gift, stop at face-painting stations and write letters to Santa. As the ship sets sail, all gather in the dining theater for breakfast -- pancakes and more -- as a cast of holiday characters presents story time and sing-alongs.
Fortunately, he says, Hansen had help with this part of his job.
"My son -- who also plays Tiny Tim in 'A Dickens Christmas Carol' at Silver Dollar City -- fancies himself a producer," he says. "So he'll tell me if he doesn't think that joke is the best joke or whatever. He's almost too old ... but my daughter, who is 5, can't get enough of the dancing elves, and she loves the face painting.
"At least, my son is still very impressed that Dad knows the real Santa."
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