In 2013 the theater celebrates it’s 18th season of operation, presenting incredible productions to thousands of Branson visitors each year. The venue has an interesting history and has been home to many artists and shows over the years starting with the Braschler Music Show.
Years before the Branson entertainment boom, a local man named Gil Elmore purchased the 14 acre parcel of land that the theater now sets on and built a small, ranch style home with a small barn and lived there for 17 years. Mr. Elmore was the Public Relations Director for the Shepherd of the Hills attraction for 29 years beginning in 1961 and also performed as Jim Lane in the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama more than 2000 times. He also played the part of Jess Lane in the 1964 Film “Shepherd of the Hills,” a Macco Production, released by Howco International. The film was also released with the title “Thunder Mountain.” More information on this film may be found here.
As the town of Branson began to grow and development on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway
increased, Mr. Elmore and his wife decided it was time to move. He said that during the construction of the Cascade Inn Motel next door, “the jack hammers were unbearable!”
Gil Elmore sold the property to a Branson area developer named Jerry Crawford and his wife Dee Crawford who had big plans to develop the site.The first phase of the Crawford’s development was to construct the Victorian Village Shops, a two-story complex with office facilities and specialty stores. The Elmore’s ranch home was used as a construction office when the ground-breaking for the building of the theater began in April 1995.
Mr. Crawford was a big fan of the Braschler Music Show and invited them to move from their theater on Gretna Road where they had performed for 11 years and open their show in his new theater which was then named,“The Braschler Theater”.
The theater was designed with a Victorian flair to match the shopping complex next door. It was faced with brick and had four large handmade columns in the front. It originally held 696 theater seats, but some were taken out in later years to make room for an audio booth in the back of the auditorium as well as for an extension of the stage apron.
An accomplished artist named Brenda Murphy was commissioned to paint the lobby with custom wall murals of colorful angels playing a horn and harp. Mrs. Crawford asked they be painted with “discerning faces.” The entire mural project was completed in 5 days. Images of these and other murals can be seen on Brenda Murphy’s website.
The Braschlers were consulted regarding the ticket office and backstage areas, as well as the installation of the sound and lighting equipment. Before the theater opened, the Elmore house was raised to create part of the parking lot, however the original well casing still remains as a reminder of where the home once sat.
The Braschlers opened the new theater with their Christmas show in November of 1995, just seven months after the original groundbreaking ceremony. Construction ran so close to the opening show that Jan Braschler’s cousins from California who came to enjoy the festivities, painted the front of the stage just hours before the show began.
The Crawfords intended that the theater also be used as a music ministry outreach on Sundays. While the Braschlers were known for their incredible gospel harmonies, a special Sunday morning worship service known as the Grand Old Gospel Hour was eventually held each week and featured many great vocalists from the Branson area.
In 1996, The Sons of the Pioneers, along with with their famous stable of songs including “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” moved into the morning show time slot and the Blackwood Family Singers became the first group to perform a matinee show at the theater, while The Braschler Music Show continued in their evening show position.
In 1997, there was no matinee show and The Sons of the Pioneers and The Braschlers continued their schedule for a couple more years.
In 1999, Barbara Fairchild, famous for her recording “Teddy Bear Song,” moved her show to the morning time slot replacing the Sons of the Pioneers.
Also in 1999, Gil Elmore was inducted into the Missouri Travel and Tourism Hall of Fame.
In 2000, Guitar virtuoso and inspirational performer Tony Melendez presented his “Gift of Hope”matinee show during the year. Tony now resides in Branson with his family and continues to travel the world with his incredible presentations.
In 2001, The Sons of the Pioneers returned to the theater as the matinee show and in 2002, Mr. Crawford sold the property to an investment group who had plans to further develop the land around the theater. Barbara Fairchild took her show elsewhere and the Braschlers changed their time-slot for the first time since moving into the venue taking the matinee position.
The Sons of the Pioneers assumed the evening performances and another show, Cowboys, Heroes and Friends featuring Canadian vocalist Eli Barsi, assumed the morning slot. The new theater management changed the name to “The Sons of the Pioneers Theater” and the Pioneers band themselves repainted the lobby, covering over forever the angelic wall murals painted years earlier.
In 2003, a new morning show, Hank Williams Remembered starring Larry Burton Crocker, replaced Cowboys, Heroes and Friends but did not return the following year.
In 2004, Dave Hamner and Jim Barber were invited by the new theater owners to fill the evening time-slot at the theater when the Sons of the Pioneers decided to move their show to The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Attraction. Both Dave and Jim spent several years in Branson as featured acts in other theaters and now they had an opportunity to combine the best elements of their individual acts to create the Hamner Barber Variety Show. Read the press release regarding the new show.
On Sundays, Dave Hamner, an ordained minister as well as a professional illusionist, began the Branson Gospel Sunday Service at the theater. The free worship service features many gospel singers from the Branson area as well as Dave’s eloquently delivered sermons which can be listened to online at: GospelSunday.com.
At the beginning of the 2004 season, the theater was renamed for the 3rd time and was now known as “The Victorian Theater.”
In 2005, the Hamners and the Barbers purchased the theater which was then rechristened for the fourth time as, “Hamner Barber Theater,” which remains the name to this day. Additional stage curtains and fiber optic lights were added to the theater as well as three new video projectors and a large center stage projection screen that lowers to fill the stage with animation and video elements.
The old theater marquee which was deemed illegal by the city due to its placement too close to power lines, was torn down and a new, back lit monument sign was erected on the bluff in front of the theater on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway bringing much needed, additional drive-by exposure for the venue.
In December 2006, Patriarch of the Braschler Music Show, Cliff Braschler retires as the lead tenor after 23 years. He is a member of the Branson Music Hall of Fame.
In March 2007, The Braschler Music Show announced they will retire the show after 23 years performing in Brason. They end their run as the 3rd longest running show in Branson.
In April 2007, Ricky Boen & Texas Mud joins the theater line-up as the new morning show. Ricky Boen is the 1983 World Champion fiddle player from Odessa, Texas and his group “Texas Mud” won the coveted Will Rogers Award, being named Western Swing Group of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists.
On January 1, 2008 Hamner & Barber launch BransonWebcast.com presenting celebrity interviews, news and more recorded direct from the lobby of the Hamner Barber Theater. The Branson Webcast Theme song lyrics were written by Jim Barber with the music and vocal performed by Ricky Boen & Texas Mud.
On October 1, 2008, original theater land homesteader Gil Elmore passed away at age 78. Read his obituary here.
In the Spring of 2010,The Keatings – A Father & Son Musical Experience performed a short 6 week run at the theater afternoons from late April – until their June 16th farewell concert.
In August 2010 The Hamner Barber Variety Show announced they were extending their annual season to include additional evening shows the last week of December including a fun New Year’s Eve Fiesta Dinner Show.
In September 2010, Ricky Boen & Texas Mud announced they were ending their morning show after five years of performances in Branson.
In April 2011, Dalena Ditto opened her 10th season in Branson with her Dalena Ditto Country Music Variety Show afternoons at the Hamner Barber Theater. She will perform both mornings and afternoons beginning in November 2011. The show also featured famed singing impressionist Jeff Brandt, and well known Branson comedian Harley Worthit.
In February 2012, the Hamner Barber Variety Show began it’s 9th season in Branson. In April 2012, Dalena Ditto opened her 11th season in Branson with her Dalena Ditto Country Music Variety Show with several new musicians and a limited performance schedule going through the first week of December at the Hamner Barber Theater.
In November 2012, Tom Mullica announced he will be moving his successful tribute show to Red Skelton to the morning slot beginning in March 2013.
In March 2013, the Hamner Barber Variety Show will begin it’s 10th season in Branson. Tom Mullica’s Tribute to Red Skelton is the new morning show at 10am, and The Fair Family from Rogers, Arkansas perform afternoons at 3pm.
Special thanks to Jan Braschler, Gil Elmore, and Brenda Murphy for their assistance in compiling this history information. Please send any additions or corrections to: [email protected]