Review by Jason Wert
As the Branson season begins to really crank up for 2021, the established shows in the city are making changes to freshen the performances for returning audiences. While most shows work them up during the “off-season,” the Duttons has a unique advantage in that they perform year-round; that allows new segments of their show to come in and look like they’ve always been there.
That’s what makes the Duttons stay at the top of the Branson pecking order; they always seem to fire on all cylinders during the shows. They have routines down so solidly that they can actually work fake “mistakes” into the show and you’ll never know it; you’ll just think you saw a moment of humanity among the performance.
Now, the big thing is that Jessica Dutton continues to outshine the rest of the show. Last year, we called her out as being a superstar in the making; this year you can see her take it to an even higher level. The nuances of her vocal performances are stronger than last year and she shows a depth that goes beyond the rest of the family. Musically, it’s hard to say she’s stronger than the rest of the Duttons because they all play so many instruments, but Jessica is clearly among Branson’s most talented multi-instrumentalists.
That potential to lead a show and break out shines best in the Andrews Sisters section of the show; Jessica clearly fits into the trio and their staccato vocal harmonies in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are pitch perfect; but you can see how Jessica outshines everyone else.
Honestly, her progression as a performer has me a little concerned. In the concept of the Duttons family performance, she can only do so much and use her talent only so far because the show is built on the family concept. Her talent is set to explode and she needs to have the stage and the space to take this talent out and let it explode; I don’t know if she can really develop to be how good she can be unless she gets her own show at some point which would allow her to use all her talents to their maximum. She could be the leading superstar of Branson’s next wave, but she needs to take that step out of the family dynamic.
The rest of the family brings the solid, entertaining, energetic show that succeeds in keeping you pulled in from the opening notes. The family’s instrumental abilities are as on point as they have ever been; and any musician can tell you the difficulty it takes for multiple musicians to play the same tight rhythmic patterns together for any length of time. When you start adding four, five, six, seven musicians all playing the same part in unison with the tempo and precision you get from the Duttons, you realize the wealth of talent in front of you plus imagine the amount of practice that had to go into some parts of the show.
The segment where they pay tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is not only as solid as any version of a Valli tribute I’ve seen in Branson, it also reminds you quickly how good Frankie and the guys were during their heyday. A nice mix of younger and older performers in that segment.
There is also a really sweet segment in the middle with the family patriarch, Dean Dutton, and a song that evokes the best of comedic performers like Roger Miller or Jerry Clower. It doesn’t really fit the overall scope of the show per se; but it provides an audio and comedic palate cleanser that is a welcome addition to the night’s show. And, well, it’s just fun.
Beyond Jessica, parts of the show have also shown improvement, and those are the parts involving the approximately 84,958 grandchildren in the Dutton family. One part in particular was a segment that I actually saw as a negative in last year’s show; their rendition of WALK THE MOON’s “Shut Up And Dance.” Last year’s lead vocal was a little too smooth to fit the punching drive of the uptempo dance number and way different than the vocal of the original; this year the performance is a lot closer to where you would want it to be with that song.
Also, the choreography of the entire show has gotten stronger with the younger set of performers. Whereas last year’s show I could see times the teenagers would glide into their marks on stage, there was a sense of urgency and crispness to this year’s routines.
And without ruining it, there’s one segment where two of the teens perform a dance move that will make you pull a muscle just watching it; and it’s also one where your first thought was at some point if they mess up someone’s going to get really hurt.
Musically, the three teens that make up the Beatles tribute section of the show have my respect for one thing: they do it right. They don’t try to oversell the music with modern style dance moves, they don’t try to be caricatures of the original band. They dress the part, but they play and sing the songs with the reverence you’d expect from performers 20 to 30 years their senior; you can see them having fun but you can also tell they respect the importance of the music of the Beatles. (And Ringo, well, he’s the outlier here too.)
And I can’t end the review without a quick shout out to Rob Wilson, the drummer for their show. He’s the only non-Dutton on the stage (either by blood or marriage) and he does a more than admirable job as locking down the rhythm end of the show. Given the show’s dependence on tempo and timing, a less skilled drummer could really lower the quality of the show.
The bottom line, as always for our reviews, is it worth your money? Yes. The 2021 version of the Duttons is just as strong as previous years, and the new segments more than hold their own. The teenagers are starting to come into their own as performers, and Jessica is simply a thoroughbred racehorse in the starting gate waiting to be allowed to run free. It’s another year in the top tier in Branson for the Duttons.