Some folks still can't believe Andy Williams has become a permanent resident of this music center nestled in the remote Ozark hills.

Branson, the heartland entertainment showplace, has more theater seats than Broadway. Some 5 million visitors annually flock to more than 30 music theaters.But the stylish Williams, who perhaps would seem more at home at Carnegie Hall than on stage in rural Missouri, insists he's delighted he heeded some brotherly advice and opened his Moon River Theatre here last year.

Williams was watching his friend, Ray Stevens, perform at his theater in 1991 when some audience members spotted him.

"They yelled: `Why don't you come down here? We never get to see you,' " he recalled.

"My brother, Don, manages Ray, and he said he thought I'd do really well here," Williams said. "Because my image is not a New York, high-roller, swinging thing anyway. It's always been middle-of-the-road, family entertainment, which is what this town is built on."

Sensing a huge opportunity, Williams sold his home and office building in California, dumped his New York apartment and packed up his wife, Debbie, and Cody, their German shorthaired pointer.

Destination: Branson, population 3,706.

Williams' $12 million theater was built to resemble limestone bluffs that dominate the region. Filled with works from his extensive art collection and featuring a state-of-the-art stage and sound system, the hall is arguably the classiest in town.

It's certainly the first Branson theater to be featured in Architectural Digest.

The gamble paid off. The same crowds that lined up to see Mel Tillis, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark and other country stars with theaters in Branson also embraced Williams' show.

View Comments

Williams did so well his first year that other pop performers decided to join the Branson boom. Now Wayne Newton, Bobby Vinton, Tony Orlando and John Davidson have theaters.

"I don't miss Los Angeles at all," Williams said. "I don't miss the traffic, the hassles, the smog, the shootings."

Don't mention retirement around Williams, 65, who's collected 20 gold and platinum albums in a career that began at age 8.

"I like doing the shows, and the people like the shows. So as long as I feel good physically and want to do them, I'll keep doing it."

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.