Review by Jason Wert
This is a show that so close to being the best show I’ve ever seen in Branson.
They were literally one song by a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Canadian power trio with a 1981 rock anthem titled after a Mark Twain character away from reaching the pinnacle. But while that stumble stopped them from a rush to the top of the charts, the team behind Anthems of Rock have brought to Branson a much needed breath of fresh air with loud guitars, skin tight leather pants, and some of the most legendary rock songs that will get the adrenaline rushing for any rock fan.
The show is a non-stop sonic avalanche of the best songs rock and roll, something that Branson has sorely needed for many years. It’s the first show I’ve ever seen in Branson that as a member of Generation X I felt was aimed at my generation. That made me feel comfortable and welcome from the very first moment; it was obvious from the reaction of the rest of the audience they felt the same way.
The show hits all the major anthems you would expect from a show like this: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”; Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”; Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”; Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The songs that many of us played over and over until we wore out the cassette tapes in our Walkmans. The show also has the major artists you’d expect: Queen, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Aerosmith, and Journey.
However, the show’s producers threw in some really pleasant surprises that I heard people talking about during intermission and as they were leaving. The show worked in songs from Whitesnake, Meat Loaf, Bryan Adams, and Van Halen that you didn’t expect to hear in the running order but made you feel joyful as you flashed back to the first time you heard those songs in your youth.
I felt like I was hearing a rotating list of the songs on the cassettes that rolled around in my 1976 Chevy Nova’s floorboards during my high school years.
Adding to the song choices that made the show flow well was the outstanding performances from some of the vocal cast. The best of the batch was Cole Sherratt, whose voice seemed to best fit the format of this show. His delivery was almost perfect in each of his songs, and outside of a slip-up during a Led Zeppelin song (hey, it’s not easy to cover Jimmy Page), he provided some surprisingly strong licks on the lead guitar.
Closely on the heels of Sherratt’s performance was female lead Sarah Marie LaBeau, who also brought some guitar chops to match her vocal prowess. When she’s taking center stage, you can’t not be focused on her; she clearly is in her wheelhouse with this music.
The energy of the show is major rock concert level, with a dance team that works into almost the entire show so seamlessly that it brings you a complete show experience that is lacking in many other productions. Some of the dance moves just leave you with your mouth hanging open; but even in their spectacular moves it doesn’t break the flow of the show. Courtnay Collins deserves full credit for her choreography of the dance team; it’s a credit to her and the team’s talent that they can be as acrobatic as they are and not distract at all from the musical performance.
One thing those in attendance will have to do is willingly accept that some of the vocal stylings will be different than the original.
Let’s be honest…no one on a Branson stage is going to be able to prance the stage like Freddie Mercury, arguably the greatest rock and roll frontman ever. Don Henley of the Eagles and Led Zeppelin’s legendary frontman Robert Plant are so unique that you can’t really copy their style without seeming like a parody of them. So it’s a very good thing that the performers in Anthems of Rock do the songs in their own styles and don’t try to be carbon copies; but it still means as an audience member you have to expect things to be a little different.
Now, my joking around about their lack of a Rush song in the production aside, there were a few things that didn’t thrill me about the show or just made me say “what?”, which took me away from the show’s flow.
One is just a pet peeve: they perform Van Halen’s “Jump” which was recorded with David Lee Roth; the photo they put up of Van Halen on the screens has Sammy Hagar, the vocalist who replaced Roth. Most of us rockers keep our Van Halen and Van Hagar separate. 🙂
There were a few songs that I just thought felt out of place with the show. The cover of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” is not something I would think of if making a list of rock anthems. Not that the performers didn’t nail the song, which they did, but I wouldn’t have included it. I felt the same about having Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs”, or Starship’s “We Built This City”, or even Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” (They do two other John songs, “Crocodile Rock” and “I’m Still Standing”, which seemed better fits.)
It made me think about artists that were not included in the show (other than Rush) that seemed necessary for a rock anthem’s show. There really needs to be a U2 song. No Kiss at all? Motley Crue had a few anthems…and if you played “Smoking in the Boys Room” you could hit Crue and Brownsville Station. The fact there wasn’t a Rolling Stones song anywhere was noticeable. (Can you really say the Stones are not one of the seminal rock bands of the genre?) No Springsteen?
And no Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers? “American Girl” would fit very nicely in the slot where the second Rod Stewart song is placed…
And in what’s a little nit pick…a few times in the show I wanted to hear a little more attitude from the vocalists, like in Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Now, please don’t think my criticisms are in any way telling you this isn’t a show worth seeing; the fact I’m actually thinking about this show long after I’ve seen it and wondering how it could be even better means it’s a show that resonated so deeply with me that I would love to see a version 2.0 with some of the bands I mentioned that didn’t make the cut tonight. I can’t remember a single time I went to a previous Branson show where I spent time actively thinking about which songs I’d like in and out like I have Anthems of Rock.
The bottom line of all our reviews is whether or not you should spend your hard earned money on viewing this show. Well, let’s put it this way: If you are a fan of rock and roll, this is a show you cannot miss when you are in Branson. In it’s own way, it’s the absolute best show in Branson for what it brings you; no one else provides a rock and roll experience like this show.
This is especially true if you are someone who is part of Generation X and grew up with these bands; this is your first real Branson show for you. This is what you’ve been wanting to see come to Branson since your parents started bringing you here decades ago.
This is your show.
Do not miss it.
(Anthems of Rock performs at the King’s Castle Theatre at 2 p.m. Thursdays and 8 p.m. Wednesday & Saturday)