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June 12, 2008

My wife and I finally made it over to the Welk Resort Theatre to see the Rankin Brothers after so many friends said, “You’ve got to see it.”  Now we know why.  We should have known a first rate resort with a first rate theater is going to have a first rate show.  The Rankin Brothers deserve this beautiful venue where so many talented big names have played.

Our evening started with a quiet dessert at the Stage Door Restaurant right before show time.  Then, when we went into the theater and got settled in the comfortable seats, we were ready to be entertained.  The Rankin Brothers; Matt, Mark, and the entire cast, were ready to entertain.  They came out and the brothers explained who they were, how they came to be in Branson, and what the show was about - and then the Classic Music Revue began with Bob Seger’s 1978 hit, “Old Time Rock N’ Roll.”  This was well-performed and a perfect opening for two hours of music from the 50’s through the 90’s.  The brothers were learning the music of the 50’s and 60’s when they were in their teens.  They proved how well they learned with their second song of the evening, Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit, “Summertime Blues.”  By this point in the show they had the audience convinced they were for real, they knew their stuff, and they knew how to entertain.

Now the audience was expecting great things from these guys and they continued to deliver.  Mark Rankin sang Neil Diamond’s 1969, “Sweet Caroline.”  He did it just the way Neil Diamond did, sounded just like Neil, and got a response from the audience like they just watched Neil Diamond sing his old classic.  With this kind of audience reaction, both the cast and the audience knew it is going to be a great show.  Here is the rest of the cast:

THE BAND:
Bill Reder on keyboards, tenor and bass sax, and vocals
Cameron Streck on lead guitar
Casey Robertson on drums
Paul Stephens on bass guitar
Galen Butler on keyboard (music director)

THE RANKINETTES on backup and lead vocals:
Lori Kelley Cathcart
Chris Spencer
Betsy Cathcart
Both of the brothers play guitar with Matt Rankin alternating lead guitar parts with Cameron throughout the show.   This collection of talented musicians and singers sound like they have been playing together all their lives.

Now back to the music with Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the 1974 hit, “Takin’ Care Of Business” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1989 hit, “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”  By this time you could look around at the audience and see everyone singing (or at least their lips were forming the words), smiling, clapping, and reminiscing.

A segment in the show called, “Listen To The Radio” begins with the Everly Brothers 1957 hit, “Wake Up Little Susie” and 1959’s, “Let It Be Me.”  Yes you guessed it, they do sound just like Don and Phil Everly.  But just as your mind returns to reality, Matt and Mark come out and sing the Righteous Brothers 1965 hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”  This was just an unbelievable performance but wait, there’s a lot more still coming.  Next up was Mark and Lori as Sonny and Cher doing their 1965, “I Got You, Babe.”  I don’t know if it was funnier than good or vice-versa; we’ll settle for both.  Rounding out the segment is Matt and Mark singing the 1966 hit by Simon and Garfunkel, “Sounds Of Silence.”  Yep - all together now - “they sounded just like them.” 

Mike Bliss provides a break in the music with his crazy antics, his unicycle, a little magic, a jump rope, and a willing volunteer from the audience.  During this time the stage is being set for the next segment.

When the curtain opens a screen is in the back showing Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings.  In 1971 Don McLean wrote a hit about Van Gogh that was released again in 2001 by Josh Groban; “Starry Starry Night.”   Mark Rankin gave the audience a beautiful rendition. 

Now the Rankinettes come to the front of the stage and perform, back to back:
The Ronnettes 1963, “Be My Little Baby
The Chiffons 1963, “One Fine Day
The Shangri-Las 1964, “Leader Of The Pack
The Marvelettes 1961 and the Carpenters 1975, “Please, Mr. Postman
The Shirelles 1961, “Dedicated To The One I Love
These ladies are talented solo artists and they work extremely well providing group backup vocals for the Rankin Brothers throughout the show.

Up to this point in the show, Mark keeps trying to insert his Elvis numbers into the act and the band is eager to oblige.  Matt cuts everyone short as if he wants to stick with the script.  Matt wants Slovakian folk music but Mark keeps coming up with Elvis.  Well Mark finally gets his way and enters the stage in his Elvis attire.  He also brings his Elvis moves and voice.   What follows is an excellent presentation of Elvis’ music that had the audience going wild.  The songs Mark sang were, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “American Trilogy.”  You can hear a preview of  “Suspicious Minds” and other songs by going to the link at the beginning of this review and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

A new theme follows intermission and the setting is that of a 1962 high school prom.  The “Soda Jerks” band is playing, “Rock Around The Clock.”  The singing teenage heartthrobs are Matt as, “Jimmy Lonely” and Mark as, “Johnny Cola.”  The senior’s class song is Del Shannon’s 1961, “Runaway.”

Lori takes center stage to perform Connie Francis’, “Where The Boys Are.”  Then the Soda Jerks and the rest of the cast gets into Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit, “Twisting The Night Away.”  Matt then slows the pace down when he sings the Bobby Hatfield, “Unchained Melody.”  What a job on that one!

I didn’t intend for this review to be a song list of the Rankin Brothers Show so let me just say there are many more songs presented, not just professionally but also, entertainingly.  What I’m trying to say here is there is a big difference between a singer who sings a song very well and a singer who entertains while singing a song very well.  The cast of the Rankin Brothers Classic Music Revue know how to entertain.  You’ve got to see Matt’s portrayal of Buddy Holly and watch how he gets the crowd wanting to dance in the aisles with his performance of Chuck Berry’s, “Johnny B. Goode.”  That includes the Chuck Berry shuffle across the stage like nobody has done since Chuck Berry himself.

Bob Cort, Editor

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Rankin Brothers - Classic Music Revue