by Linda Burlingame
Clay Cooper’s theater is always bustling with excitement. I had a pleasant sense of anticipation when I walked up to the box office to get my ticket. And who was there greeting me with a big smile of recognition and a “Hi Linda!” … Tina Cooper, co-star of Clay Cooper’s Country Express! I chuckled. Tina. In the box office. Sellin’ tickets. Because, you see Tina also manages the theater, does the choreography, sings and dances in the show…! I said hi quickly, took my ticket, and hurried on — lots of other people were excited about the show and waiting for tickets!
Matt Gumm’s pre-show was just starting. Not three minutes later I thought, this skit is hilarious, so well done. This is worth the price of admission! “Wild West Productions,” it seems, is filming a black and white silent movie — Just Horsin’ Around. Starring audience members and complete with bad guys, heroes and heroines, it’s a laugh a minute, with the actors trying to keep a straight face. Clay even makes a cameo appearance! Now the audience is fired up, and the enthusiasm level throughout the show never wanes. After a video of backstage hijinks, practice and preparation, the audience knows the cast and crew have fun getting ready to entertain you. This Is the Greatest Show!
I Can Help (“Let me help”) … and you can’t help smiling when Clay comes down to the audience singing and shaking hands; soon we’re laughing aloud as he introduces some folks. Meet Bill and Sue. Clay, “Have y’all been to Branson before?”
“Oh, lots of times.”
“Have you been to our show before?”
Well. Clay shoots that sideways glance that says, “Really?” Clay’s quick and clever; his off-the-cuff interactions with the audience are fun, definitely highlights of the show. Clay Cooper’s Country Express is filled with sensational singing, dynamic dancing, hilarious comedy, and so much more! (Before I forget, don’t leave when the show is over. Stay to watch the clever credits video!)
In the meantime, We’ve Got a Long Way to Go and a Short Time to Get There! The pace of the show is terrific, and the song selection is good. The show is filled with some of the most talented entertainers and musicians anywhere. I’ve known some of them for a long time. Clay and Tina; featured vocalist Kari Garrison (Kari sang with Moe Bandy’s show for eight years.); drummer Jimmy Hyde (He came to Branson with the late, great Eddie Rabbitt.); guitarist Barry Bales, R.P. Harrell … there are seven in the band, eight dancers — two dozen in the entire cast!
Clay, who’s from Wylie, Texas, was on stage at the Opry there when he was 14. In 1986 he moved to Branson as part of the Texas Goldminors. After that and other shows (Country Tonite emcee and lead vocalist for nine years), he and his wife Tina (whom he met with Country Tonite) started Clay Cooper’s Country Express in 2005. Tina has a BFA in Music Theatre and a broad entertainment background. Matt Gumm grew up around and in variety shows at Lake of the Ozarks and later attended the Missouri Fine Arts Academy. A lot of professional experience goes into producing this show.
Tina and Clay do a fun rendition of Squeeze Me In (“Whoever said it’s a man’s world….”) Kari Garrison has a wonderful voice; I loved her Baby, I’m as Good as Gone! And Clay and Kari’s Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good. Clay asked Bill (Remember Bill?!) to choose an artist for a medley. Comic confusion ensues but they get it straightened out, and Clay does classic versions of Hank Williams’s Your Cheatin’ Heart and Calijah.
You’ll love “Bob” and his fancy footwork, quite fancy for an “old man!” And when the dancers Boogie Back to Texas! Kari, RP, and Third Power (James Redden, Jordan Dickison, and David Griffin) are inspiring with A Better Life. R.P., Clay, and Third Power sing This Is a Man’s World. (Hmm. Didn’t we already settle that with Clay and Tina’s song?!)
Oh! And the impersonations! They’re funny, and they’re good. ZZ Top — complete with the fuzzy guitars and beards, “’cause every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man!” The Judds; NSYNC; Pointer Sisters … and Tina and Clay’s son Caden is a great young Bruno Mars! Caden and his older brother Colton have been on stage since they were very young; they’re seasoned entertainers.
A gospel production, a tribute to veterans … there’s much more to tell you, but I’ll stop so you can let Branson Tourism know you want to see Clay Cooper’s Country Express! (And don’t forget to stay and watch the credits video!)