Review by Jason Wert
The Hughes Brothers have been presenting a show for 38 years, the last 25 in Branson. They are clearly seasoned performers who know to work a stage, but this season has a curveball: one of the brothers is no longer with show (and not even in the state any longer.) So knowing the show will be different in many ways from previous years (partially because of that curveball), what does the “Hughes Music Show” bring to the table in 2019?
The first thing I would say for anyone who is considering the Hughes Music Show is to expect a true variety show kind of format. There’s no real “straight line” you can draw through the show. At times it felt like watching TV with my dad: we had one show we were watching but every now and then we’d flip to another show on a second channel and then back to the first.
That feeling is actually the most prevalent in the first half of the show. The best way I can describe it is that there are two shows with two different energies that alternate on the stage.
The first “show” is the brothers themselves bring their four part harmony to a variety of music styles. While they have powerful performances in their vocals, there’s an underlying calm kind of energy that reminds the viewer of the best southern gospel vocal groups. It’s not a kind of energy that would pull you from your seat; it’s rather the kind that makes you sit with a reverent awe for the level of vocal artistry.
The second “show” really increases the energy level when the “Hughes Kids” take the stage and when the “Hughes Wives” are involved in the show. Those performances have more of a kinetic energy that bursts forth from the dancing and overall performance on the stage. They’re much more “show” than the parts where the brothers are singing and while the vocal performances are good they don’t have that awe-inspiring ability of the brother’s harmonies.
(And dare I say that the ladies can not only hold their own against the brothers but may have actually outdone the brothers tonight? But I digress…)
The mixing of the two show styles provide an ebb and flow to the show. You get the calm power of the quartet, then a rush of adrenaline from the most theatrical performance. Then it’s back to the brothers to ground things, then we go up again. The segments are fantastically entertaining, you just have to know going in that you won’t have a linear path through the show.
There is more of a path in the second half of the show, when they focus mostly on Broadway show tunes, but even that had a digression when they did the tribute to veterans that all Branson shows do and then back to another musical selection.
Now, the segments of the show themselves mostly fired on all cylinders. The vocal harmonies of the brothers are as solid as any quartet you’re going to hear. Their collective vocal sound brings a strength that demands the audience’s attention. You can see why they’ve won multiple awards for their vocal work.
Their medley of some of Alabama’s greatest hits is about the best you’re going to hear this side of Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook themselves.
As I alluded to earlier, the ladies of the show really stepped up and shined when they took the stage. The couples performing the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross classic “Endless Love” is one of the high points of the show. I think what elevates the song is the fact you can tell they really do love each other…no faking a performance there!
The Hughes have the honor of being the largest family in the world all performing in the same show. When the entire Hughes collective is on the stage, there is a tremendous joy that can be seen in their performance. They really seem to enjoy being on the stage together and that translates into a feeling that the audience can almost feel themselves.
(And just a personal aside, being a Queen fan, I was very impressed with the family’s arrangement and performance of the classic “Somebody to Love.”)
And the “Hughes kids” are TALENTED. It’s not a case of mom and dad throwing the kids into the show because they want to sell the “family image”…these kids really do have strong performing ability. Whether it’s musical performance (outstanding violin work), dancing or singing, these kids can really hold their own. There wasn’t a single segment of the show where it was just the kids performing that I found myself cringing because I felt like I was being pandered to with the kids performing on stage.
The kids do a segment in the show where they are “in school” where they make music using school supplies and student sized school desks that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. It was one of a few segments with the kids that was percussive in nature and it works very well for those portions of the show.
The teen/20something Hughes sons doing “Greased Lightning” from Grease in the show tunes section of the show was the best of the show tunes segment, even besting their fathers’ performance of a song from Les Miserables.
The band was extremely solid. The technical crew also did an outstanding job with tonight’s show. There was only one really glaring technical mistake…one of the kids in a segment didn’t have her microphone turned on before her solo section…but in a show with literally hundreds of microphone cues to only miss one is a tremendous job. Yes, I know the goal is perfection when it comes to a show of this nature, but as someone who’s worked with microphones and sound boards and tech cues forman years, I know that getting through with one mistake is an incredible effort.
So overall, there are a lot of positives to take away from the Hughes Music Show, even with the jagged feeling that can come from the variety show feel.
Now, was it a perfect show tonight? No, I can’t honestly say that. The brothers actually sounded a little flat in the opening number. Almost like vocally they hadn’t warmed up enough before that first song, for lack of a better way to describe it. I also felt the show didn’t really kick into gear until the third song (but after that it was off to the races.)
And this may be a nit-pick on my part, because I know the brothers are the stars of the show, but I kind of wanted to see a little more from the wives. They were outstanding in their time on the stage and it left me wanting perhaps to see another show segment with just them in place of perhaps one of the kids’ segments or the “western” song that the brothers performed.
So would I recommend the show to someone? Yes. I wouldn’t tell them that I can’t honestly call it the best show I’ve seen in Branson in the last year or so, but I would certainly tell them that they won’t walk out thinking they didn’t get their money’s worth from the Hughes Music Show.
The best analogy I can give to sum up my feelings for the show would be that it’s like an old winter coat that you’ve had around for years: you’re familiar with it, it’s very comfortable, you love putting it on and you wear it a lot…you’d have no problem recommending that particular style & brand of coat to someone else who’s looking for a coat…but you’re not going to hold it up as the best piece of clothing in your closet.