If you haven’t been on the Showboat Branson Belle yet during the 2011 season, then you’re missing two spectacular new shows. From top to bottom, your experience on the 1890s-style paddle-wheeler will be unlike any cruise you’ve taken on this boat before—there’s a brand-new stage look, new décor, a new menu (featuring fabulous new three-course meals), and even new live bands, including the Rockin’ Dockers.
One of the new shows, Encore!, presents three distinct acts—world-renowned aerial violinist Janice Martin (who was discovered during the performances of “Fiery Fiddles” at Silver Dollar City’s WorldFest in 2010), the six-member male vocal group, The Showmen (including Brandon Schraml of Kansas City), and magician and comedian, Christopher James, who serves as emcee.
The Showmen present a program devoted to medleys by “boy bands”—from the Beatles (and other groups from the Swinging 60s) to more contemporary artists like The Black Eyed Peas.
I caught up with Christopher James (who got the title “Funny Hyper Magic Boy” from a news anchor’s description) recently and he graciously agreed to an interview.
“It’s so hard to even compare the two,” James said, when asked how Encore! is like 2010’s Showstoppers! show. “I feel the show this year is not only fun for the audience, but it’s also a lot of fun for us, the entertainers. We get to interact with each other, and with members of the audience. Every day is different, because there are more opportunities to interact with different people.”
James is from Youngstown, Ohio (“halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland”) and has performed in comedy clubs and school shows. “I did ‘Kids First’ shows with the ‘Building Kids of Character’ community group. The shows instilled manners and patriotism in kids. They were fun, too, because you never knew what the kids were going to say.” He also did a television spot in Ohio about once a month when he was starting out.
In 2010, James was the Magicians’ Alliance of Eastern States’ choice for Magic Act of the Year, the Comedic Stage Act of the Year, and the Entertainment Award of Excellence. He’s been featured on NBC, CBS and FOX news (which did a special, hour-long profile of him in Youngstown, Ohio).
Being on the water is like second nature to James by now. “I’ve been on every single cruise ship. I absolutely love it! I love working with people, and I love entertaining people when only 10% of my audience speaks English. The day we finish our shows in Branson, I’m on a cruise ship.”
How is performing on a ship different from entertaining folks on dry land? “It’s a lot different performing for people who are on a ship, especially when you can’t rely on the English language. You have to use body language. I’ve done the same act I do on English-speaking ships (even the rope trick), without speaking a word, when the entire ship is Portuguese.”
Can you tell that James is a real “people person”? He loves selecting audience members to help him with his magic tricks. “I don’t decide whom I’m going to pick until that very moment. I watch the crowd for a while to see who looks comfortable. The audience members I choose end up being the focus, the stars. Really little kids sometimes get uncomfortable, so I’m careful about only picking the eager kids.” (James should know a lot about child psychology—he has been a substitute teacher.)
As far as the differences between the sexes, James says that “guys are the only ones who never want to come up. Women are usually happy to be picked. I’ve been with the Showboat Branson Belle since 2005, and in all the different shows, I’ve only had 23 people whom I’ve picked not come up. I’ve kept a journal about it!”
James’ comedy routines cater not only to senior citizens, but also to VIPs (“Most of those people all know each other”), and high school students on their Senior Prom nights. He says the Showboat Branson Belle likes to offer “something for everyone”—from classical music to the theme song from “The Flintstones.” Although he pokes fun during his act at Branson’s conservatism (“I wondered, when I first moved to town, why my car kept veering to the right”), it’s easy to see that he’s truly dedicated to the patriotic values promoted by the founders of Silver Dollar City.
And he’s a first-class entertainer, to boot. His comedy and magic routine is just one more reason to experience the new Encore! show on the Showboat Branson Belle.
The Fine Print
The Showboat Branson Belle cruises Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri through December 31. Call 1-800-775-BOAT (2628) or go to www.showboatbransonbelle.com.