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Missouri: Southern Mo.’s blockbusters and battlefields

Showboat Theater, courtesy Branson Lakes Area CVB

A flying fiddle-player and the firing of Civil War cannons illustrate the great diversity of southern Missouri. This year marks a busy time for the region as Branson unveils a wide array of new shows and entertainment, and the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War kicks off near Joplin with a re-enactment of one of the first battles of the war.


Entertainment Branson style means new shows and much from which to choose.

This coming season, the Showboat Branson Belle will undergo the biggest change of its 15-year history with a fresh production and menu.

“Encore!” features two acts: Janice Martin, a world-class violinist, pianist and vocalist who is billed as the world’s only fiddling aerialist, and the Showmen, a new male vocal group who performs music from the 1960s to today.

Comedian and magician Christopher James returns as master of ceremonies along with the Showboat’s live orchestra.

“Janice Martin is going to add such a phenomenal act to the Showboat,” said Lynn Berry, director of public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “She’s classically trained but quite able to hit a few licks on the fiddle.”

Elvis Presley tribute artist Joseph Hall will be performing at the Americana Theatre. The show stars Hall in a full production featuring special effects and state-of-the-art lighting and lasers backed by a live band. Hall has been officially recognized by Elvis Presley Enterprises.

“I took Joseph to Fort Leonard Wood to perform in a Branson USO show,” said Berry. “He does an incredible personality transformation and absolutely becomes Elvis.”

Comedian Todd Oliver will appear at the Jim Stafford Theatre in “Todd Oliver and Friends.” Talking dogs, music and magic will round out this new offering. The ticket includes a picnic-style meal.

“Legend of Kung Fu,” which opened the Beijing Olympics in 2008, is a crowd-pleaser that recounts a classic Chinese story and incorporates remarkable athleticism.

JEERK, Sweden’s top rhythm artists, bring action-packed entertainment to the Hughes Brothers Theatre. Known worldwide for their innovative, one-of-a-kind stage presence, they add an exciting twist to the Branson mix.


Tim Cox, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his town will be “a great spot for people to come while visiting the area’s Civil War sites during the sesquicentennial.”

Two Battles of Newtonia were fought on acreage surrounding the Ritchey Mansion, 15 miles south of Joplin. The first, in 1862, saw approximately 350 casualties. The second, in 1864, resulted in roughly 650 Union and Confederate soldiers killed or wounded.

Matthew H. Ritchey owned a fairly typical Missouri mansion, now on the National Register of Historic Places, that served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops. Confederate outlaw Belle Starr was imprisoned in the house, and the second-story bedroom floor was painted black to hide bloodstains after it became an operating room.

Newtonia was the only Civil War battle where regimented Native Americans fought with the North and South against each other. Doug Hall, an American Indian artist, painted a commissioned mural that depicts the battle, on display at the home.

Nearby, the Battle of Carthage, where some of the Civil War’s first bloodshed occurred, preceded the Battle of Bull Run by 11 days in 1861. The site of the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site served as the campsite for Union troops the night before and for Confederate troops the night following the clash. The site also saw one of the last skirmishes of the 10-mile mobile engagement.

After the Civil War, Joplin split into two cities: Murphysburg and Landreth Creek.

“The Murphysburg Residential Historic District has many Victorian homes from the 1870s and 1880s,” said Cox. “Joplin has a number of historic churches as well.”

The district offers a self-guided walking tour, home and garden tours during special events and specific homes that can be opened for groups.

More on Missouri:

Eastern Missouri
Route 66

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.