Review by Jason Wert
I have to admit it was a little intimidating to do a review of the Duttons: this is the same show that Simon Cowell said he loved. So what would happen if I saw the show and found myself differing with the world’s most well-known grumpy British judge?
Fortunately, I don’t have to disagree with old Simon as the show was fantastic; but the night was a bigger revelation because of the discovery of a truly bright star in Branson.
The entire Dutton family are a group of elite musicians; among the best Branson has to offer and world-class performers. I say that to say this: Jessica Dutton is a superstar.
Jessica, the 23-year-old daughter of Tim and Judith Dutton, is so talented and has such a natural stage presence that she will be either a solo artist on a national scale or the headline performer of her own show.
I’ve been in broadcasting in some form for over 30 years; in that time I can think of a handful of moments where I saw a performer who is not well known and immediately felt they had the “it” factor necessary to be a superstar. The instant that Jessica takes the stage, you can tell she has a presence that transcends the other members of her family; when she is performing you can’t help but focus on her. I would pay money to see the result of someone telling her “here’s a theatre, here’s a 90 minute time slot, go.”
In fact, there were times during the show where it almost appeared she was holding back in her performance because if she had really let herself go, she’d outshine everyone else on the stage by a mile, and it would ruin the family dynamic that makes the Dutton’s show so appealing.
Honestly, the last time I saw a Branson performer who was part of a show where their name was not known was in 2005 when Clay Cooper was just a cast member in the “Country Express” show when it was at the Americana Theatre. I remember leaving that night wondering why Cooper didn’t have his own show and theatre; we all know what happened years later.
Honestly, Jessica Dutton could be even better than Cooper was in his younger days; she will be someone that Branson visitors who see the Duttons show will be able to say while is Jessica performing on a Grammy Awards broadcast or national New Year’s Eve show “I saw her back when she was playing with her family in Branson.”
Now, beyond Jessica, the Duttons show is a top-flight night of entertainment from a family that is filled with musicians among the best you’ll see on a Branson stage.
Amy and Abby are extremely impressive in their fiddle playing; the way they play completely in unison on some very complex parts shows their high performing ability. As most musicians will tell you, it’s incredibly difficult for two or more performers to hit every note at the same tempo for an extended period of time. The two women make it look effortless, which is a testament to their abilities.
The entire family shows their skill at multiple instruments; it’s incredibly impressive that you can’t detect a lowering in the show’s musical level when they swap instruments. That said, Jon Dutton’s work on the bass is very impressive; he brings a level of drive that I didn’t expect to hear.
The segments with the entire family are fun to watch; the children of the main cast members have a joy and energy that is infectious. It’s great to see the family patriarch and matriarch Dean and Sheila still a part of the show.
There’s a part of the show where three of the grandchildren do a Beatles bit; they do an admirable job replicating the Fab Four.
One of the highlights for me both because of the outstanding musical arrangements and the fun was the “Bluegrassified” section of the show. A reference is made to a woman who allegedly left “constructive criticism” in a show review that the family didn’t play enough bluegrass. The segment features bluegrass arrangements of pop and rock songs like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies” (sung by Tim Dutton), and the Macarena.
Now, something that stood out to me was the speech given by Jon’s wife Belle before the Duttons did the patriotic portion of their show. Many times I find the “tributes” Branson shows do to our veterans to be tedious because you can tell they’re borderline patronizing and only being done because Branson shows are expected to do them.
That’s what made Belle’s speech all the more surprising and moving to me.
Belle spoke about growing up in Samoa and the stories her grandmother told her about World War II. She spoke of how soldiers from America, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand protected her island from the Axis forces and the gratitude her family had for those soldiers since Samoa didn’t have their own armed forces. It’s a perspective on our soldiers that many of us haven’t considered and brought a fresh appeal to the patriotic show segment.
Now, was the show perfect? No. As is normal when you have a show that involves youths, there were some segments where they hit some flat notes while they were singing. That, of course, will improve through time and stage experience.
One song just rubbed me a little wrong and I had trouble realizing what it was that bothered me; and then I figured out what bothered me about their cover of the Walk The Moon song “Shut Up And Dance.” The vocalist sings the song in a very smooth way when the original vocal is more staccato in delivery; that delivery really matches the musical feel of the song. Given the youth of the lead vocalist, being able to use different vocal stylings is something that will come with time and experience; a broken heart or two will likely help out too!
Now, time for the question at the end of every OI review: Is this show worth your hard-earned money?
The show is entertaining from start to finish; it has a very family friendly appeal; the song selections provide a wonderful mix of selections and styles. The musicianship is outstanding and there are moments where you see almost perfection in their musical interplay. And finally, you will get a chance to see Jessica Dutton, who will be a superstar on her own some day.