When the musical Hamilton began its Broadway run in 2015, it became an instant hit with fans and critics. Now its impact on musical theater might be reaching all the way to the Live Music Capitol of the World.
Last month, Melissa Taillon formed a Facebook group called Bring Broadway to Branson, with the goal of figuring out how to bring touring productions of Broadway shows to Branson.
The group took off.
Within a couple of weeks, it had 1,000 followers. Bring Broadway to Branson has established committees, has had discussions with a Broadway booking agent to find out what needs to happen, and they think they even have a theater lined up. She’s also had contact with members of Branson government, the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and local shows.
And Taillon credits a lot of the fervor to Hamilton. Or, at least to the July 3 debut of a filmed stage version of the musical on the Disney+ streaming service.
“A lot of my friends who used to give me a hard time about being a Broadway fan watched it and listened to it for the first time,” Taillon said. “Them seeing Hamilton kind of opened their eyes, and they said, ‘wait a second. This is Broadway.’”
She said the show spurred an interest in seeing shows, not just on TV, but live.
“They want to see live musical theater in an accessible form.”
She said that, although Springfield’s Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts does bring in some excellent Broadway productions, Taillon said the trip isn’t always feasible for those living in the Tri-Lakes area because the shows are late.
“A lot of time people go up there and they catch a late show and they have to get a hotel room,” she said.
The theater they are looking at, although a final deal has to be made, is the Encore Theatre, originally known as the Mel Tillis Theatre. The theater seats enough people. It does not have an orchestra pit (Taillon said no Branson theaters do), but it does have a room for musicians, or seats can be removed for orchestra space.
Taillon does want to caution anyone who is now expecting to see a Broadway show in Branson.
This is a long-term process.
Between the pandemic, and the fact that shows are booked well in advance, it could be a couple of years – possibly more – before a touring production comes to a Branson stage.
Then there is financing. It is hard to know how long it might take to convince investors to take a chance on a Broadway production in Branson.
Just how much financing is necessary depends on whether the organization books a union or non-union show. If they want to bring a production that falls under the Actors’ Equity Association (the union for Broadway and Broadway touring personnel) the cost will be quite high. Taillon estimated it would be at least $800,000 to book one for a week of performances. However, a non-Equity production can be booked for, she estimated, $240,000.
“It doesn’t mean one is not as good as the other. It’s just the union they are in,” Taillon said.
“There are excellent shows that are non-Equity: Waitress, Anastasia, Hairspray, Rent, Fiddler on the Roof, Those are all non-Equity.”
She also stressed that, for those who want to see one of the biggest names on Broadway, such as the aforementioned Hamilton – or Wicked, or Phantom of the Opera, or Dear Evan Hansen – those are “incredibly long-term goals.” And not just because of the cost.
“They are booked five, six years in advance,” Taillon said. “So we would not have a chance to even be a blip on their radar until we are established. The sooner we can present the booking agents with money and say ‘put us down for 2030,’ that would be great.”
Being that the project is going to take a while, Taillon said it is important for individuals to support the shows already in Branson.
“The local shows are what made us famous,” Taillon said. “We are known as the live music capital of the world. We’re kind of seeing a dip in local interaction lately, especially after COVID. It takes a village, and the village needs to start supporting our local theaters.
“I’m saying right now, even if you can’t go see a show, share their posts on social media. Tell anyone who come in contact with what your favorite show is or your favorite performer. Spread the word and bolster these local shows, because Branson is not Branson without it. That’s what made us famous, that’s what will continue to make us famous. We will continue to lose so much of our heart if these shows fold.”
And she includes the Branson Regional Arts Council, which puts on high quality community theater and holds classes for children and adults to develop their acting and signing skills.
“We just want people to fall in love with the arts again.”
She said the plan for the Broadway productions is to host shows twice a year, one in February or March, before the season gets going, and another in August when children return to school. That way, there is limited competition with existing shows, and there will be temporary jobs (ushers, concessions, and such) for those who need them.
She said the organization would work with the Arts Council, to prevent any duplicate shows.
So, perhaps what started out as a group of friends giving Hamilton a chance on TV, could turn into a movement to Bring Broadway to Branson, or, in the meanwhile, provide a boost to the town’s existing entertainment scene.
For those who want to take part or learn more, they can join the Facebook group “Bring Broadway to Branson,” or email Taillon at firstname.lastname@example.org.