Orlando does Christmas right
Tony Orlando is joined by Santa Claus during his Christmas show at the Welk Theatre in Branson.
Joshua Clark | Branson Tri-Lakes News
By Joshua Clark
Originally published Dec. 5, 2009
It is no secret that the Christmas season in Branson begins the first day of November. Lights, festivals and holiday music are the norm everywhere you go as people get ready to ring in the “most wonderful time of the year.”
So, for the past six weeks I have averaged attending at least two Christmas shows a week, and I have finally found one that I can call my favorite. This takes nothing away from any other show in town, as every theater and show has something unique to offer, and what follows is just my opinion.
Tuesday night I went to see Tony Orlando and The Lennon Sisters’ “Christmas Celebration Show.” Of course, I had seen the Lennon Sisters and Tony around town, but I hadn’t seen the show. Kathy, Mimi and Janet Lennon perform in the first half and take the audience on a trip through the past 54 years of their lives.
They perform Christmas songs, classical songs, classic rock and even a tune from one of my favorite films ever, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I really got the feeling that we were all family, hanging out at the house celebrating Christmas together like we had done for years and years.
I especially liked the fact that Janet’s three granddaughters get to help out in the show with an old Vaudeville bit and a few original tunes, as well. It was a great way to get that family message across, and plus the girls were awfully cute.
Then came intermission, followed by Tony Orlando’s half of the show. After starting with a newer, non-traditional Christmas tune, he wasted little time belting out “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” “Candita,” “Sweet Gypsy Rose,” and “Knock Three Times” within the first 10 minutes.
The gentleman sitting next to me looked over and said, “He’s jumping right in, ain’t he?”
After he gave the crowd what they wanted to see, he very carefully, and yet very honestly, began to switch into Christmas mode. I have thought a lot about the best way to describe the show, but I really don’t think I can do it justice, so I decided to let Tony do it instead.
Orlando’s Own Words
“When I first came to Branson in the early ‘90s, there was no Christmas season, and I found that really odd,” Orlando said. “We had Andy Williams, the greatest Christmas show man in the world, the Osmonds, and I thought that this town could be great at Christmas.”
Orlando was in Walmart one day and met a man named Dave Thompson, who Orlando described as “This beautiful guy who looks just like Santa Claus.”
After making sure Thompson could sing, act and most importantly, portray “the Claus,” Orlando began to lay out his idea for the show.
“The first thing I noticed was that Dave was 6’5” and I’m 5’9” and 3/4, so as soon as I stood next to him, I knew I could play this man/boy character,” he said. “I happened to look down, and this is truly God at work, I looked down and saw a ceramic Santa praying over a manger, and I looked down and told him that the show was called ‘Santa and Me,’ and Dave said, ‘Yeah?’”
Orlando began to lay the story out as it came to him, and everything seemed to come together. Orlando finished writing “Santa and Me,” and began performing in 1993. The success was immediate as the show sold out 42 straight performances in a 2,000-seat theater. He performed the show until leaving town for a while in 1998.
“I went to Broadway and did a show called ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe.’ I made a little movie with Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Swayze called ‘Waking Up in Reno,’ so I spread my wings and was having a really good time on the road doing other things, and then I decided to come back home to Branson,” Orlando said.
It seemed that everywhere he went, someone would tell him how much they enjoyed taking their family every year to see “Santa and Me,” and how it became a tradition. This really spoke to Orlando, and when the Welk Resort asked him to do a show with the Lennon Sisters, he knew he couldn’t do the show as a play, like it had originally been performed.
My Own Words
The plot of the show is simple. Orlando meets an elderly man who looks like Santa Claus in the audience and pulls him out of his seat. The man then proceeds to prove to Orlando that he is in fact the real Santa Claus, and together, they learn the true meaning of Christmas. That is as simple as I can make it without giving away too much.
I was captivated from the first song until the curtain closed. I felt like a small child watching something unfold in front of me that was unbelievable, but at the same time, very real. Everyone wants their dreams to come true, and all of us have thought about what it would be like to meet Mr. Claus face to face.
It seems to me that the things that have the greatest impact on an audience, especially when mixing entertainment with a message, are the things that slowly sneak up behind you. Not only does this show have so many fun moments, it has a message about the true meaning of Christmas.
So many times performers try to hit the audience over the head with a message, and to be honest, that’s when the majority of the people get turned off. Like Orlando told me after the show, “We get into your head, then we get into your heart.” Very, very true.
In addition to being flawlessly performed and written, the main factor in the success of the show is Orlando. It is so easy to tell that this is a personal story, and he opens up and lets us inside. He’s just so engaging and gracious it is impossible not to like the man.
The final performance is tonight, and I suggest that if you don’t already have plans, get out there and see this one while you can. You won’t be disappointed.
A Personal Note
At intermission I did an interview with the Lennon Sisters, and let me just say that those ladies are a whole lot of fun. It was really like talking to family members, and I felt like I had known them forever. What really surprised me was after the show Janet stopped me and told me an interesting story having to do with another one of my favorite films, “Waiting for Guffman.”
They knew someone was coming for an interview, but didn’t know who. Janet told me they thought a man in the front row must be the interviewer and they went out of their way to smile and wink and turn on the charm. The after the interview, they realized, just like the premise of “Guffman,” they had the wrong man. I found it terribly amusing and it just floored me. Truly one of the coolest stories I have about this job, so far.
It was after speaking to the Lennon sisters that I was told we may have to reschedule the interview with Orlando, due to the fact that his mother was very sick and the outlook wasn’t very good. I volunteered to reschedule the interview for a later time and place, but being the consummate professional, Orlando met with me after the show, did the interview and was really, really great.
As of press time I haven’t heard any more updates on the condition of Ms. Ruth Estanislaw Fabian, but I hope Orlando knows that he and his family are in our thoughts and prayers during this time.