Branson theater bringing new life to old art form


BRANSON, Mo. — Toby Shows were a popular form of entertainment in rural America about 100 years ago.

It’s a form of theater that centers around Toby – a character who survives on his common sense and wit.

Branson is known for shows ranging from traditional to contemporary but here at the Playhouse Theatre at Shepherd of the Hills, a group of dedicated entertainers are breathing new life into the old art form of Toby Shows.

Sadie Westbrock, who studies theater at Missouri State, says this is a different type of show.

“You know, you don’t really get a look into this genre theatre ever in, like, my classes and stuff,” Westbrock said.

And even veteran entertainers find it challenging.

Mixing new and old has again found a place on this branson hilltop.

“Even though the show has a lot of history here in Branson, it’s not a museum piece,” Dan Embree said. “It’s still very vibrant, very entertaining. It’s just good old-fashioned laugh-out-loud cornball comedy.”

“Some of my friends came down to see it and, I mean, they loved it but it’s so different,” Westbrock said.

And yet there’s still history, according to Scholar Dawn Larsen.

“As urbanization is encroaching on rural America Toby Shows were a place where rural Americans could look and go, ‘See, we are right! We do have the best lifestyle,'” Larsen said.

And perhaps that lifestyle is what Producer Jae McFerron shares best.

“Hillbillies are clever, smart, resourceful people and that’s what we portray here,” McFerron said. “And that’s what this whole town was built on. Hillbilly comedy.”

To buy tickets, go to

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