Famed Branson, Mo., clown is a world-class violinist
Two hours of music, "hillbilly humor" and relaxation -- all brought to you by Branson, Mo.'s funniest comedian and some of the world's finest musicians -- is just a sampling of what the Ozark Jubilee music and comedy revue has to offer.
Based in Branson, Mo., the Ozark Jubilee cast spends about 100 days on the road each year, according to Randy Newman, who has played the featured comedic role of Doofus Doolittle since acquiring the show in 1994.
One of this year's tour stops will be next Thursday, April 26, at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre.
A world-class violinist, Newman has performed with acts as far ranging as Ronnie Milsap, Jimmie Rogers, Johnny Rodriguez, Mel Tillis and Porter Wagoner.
There's eight of us," Newman said in a telephone interview last week from his home just outside Branson. "We start touring around Jan. 15, and do about 100 dates a year -- from California to Canada to Mexico to the East Coast and all over the country."
Newman has been a working musician in Branson since moving there in 1975, fresh out of high school.
"The Ozark Jubilee started in 1977 -- it was the fifth show (established) in Branson," Newman said. "Now there's over 50."
One of the keys to the venerable show's popularity, Newman believes, is that "it's different every year. Every January, we work up a whole new show."
Yet at the same time, they include some familiar elements as well, such as Newman's character, Doofus.
Though the character of Doofus is now well-honed, that wasn't necessarily the case when Newman first introduced him to Ozark Jubilee audiences 13 years ago.
"I hadn't done comedy before," Newman said. "Two weeks before the show was scheduled to open, our comedian took another job.
"Richard (Kennedy, Newman's partner in the show at that time) said you're always acting like a fool and cutting up," Newman said. But Kennedy's suggestion that he take over the comedy portion of the show didn't sit too well with Newman at first.
"I said getting out there (on stage) and being funny is a whole different deal. It's not really that easy to just put on a stupid outfit and go out and be funny," Newman said. But he agreed to try filling the role for a few weeks.
The name "Doofus Doolittle" was born of a childhood nickname, he added.
"My parents called me 'Doofus' when I was little, and I was always being blamed for doing nothing -- that's where the name 'Doolittle' came from," Newman explained.
The gaudy floral print shirt he wore on stage was a souvenir from a Hawaiian vacation "that I wore one time and thought, 'I'll never wear that again," Newman said -- and the hat was also a refugee from the back of his bedroom closet.
Gradually, a few weeks evolved into a few months, and a few years, and 12 years later, Doofus lives.
"It's taken a while, but the character has developed pretty well through the years," Newman said.
But Doofus is only present for the first hour of the show, he added. After intermission, Newman comes back out on stage as himself -- resplendent in one of his $5,000, custom-tailored suits by Manuel of Nashville.
"In the second half, we switch over to more serious music, less comedy," Newman said.
The second half of the show is slightly shorter than the first, and includes a tribute to the veterans in the audience (including song selections specially dedicated to them) and a tribute to the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
"We go from one extreme to the other, from laughing and having a good time to being very serious," Newman said. And the reactions he hears when he and the group's lead singer, Eddie Bolton, go out and greet the audiences at intermission and after the show reflect that range of emotions as well.
"I think I just maybe hit on something special, when I look out over the audience and see people laughing and talking and really enjoying themselves -- for that minute, they've forgot about their troubles," Newman said.
But sometimes, he'll also get the opposite reaction to the second half of the show, when the audience gives a standing ovation to the Sept. 11 tribute or the veterans tribute, or comes up to them after the show crying and saying how much their music touched them.
"When you see that you're touching people like that it makes you feel good," Newman said.
Aside from Newman, the ensemble cast of Ozark Jubilee includes featured male vocalist Eddie Bolton -- formerly lead singer of the Texans -- and the new featured female vocalist, Tracy Briggs -- formerly of Presley's Country Jubilee and the Shoji Tabuchi show.
Jory Clayton is the show's musical director, and plays piano, keyboards and synthesizer as well as doing all the musical arrangements for the band himself.
"We have some great musicians in our band," Newman said. "My musical director's been with me for about 10 years, and he's worked for everybody from Donna Fargo to LeRoy Van Dyke to Anita Bryant.
"The band is just phenomenal -- these four are some of the best players I've worked with," he added. (The band also includes a steel guitar player, bassist and drummer.)
The Ozark Jubilee's April 26 show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Historic Holmes Theatre. Tickets are available at the box office, online at www.dlccc.org or by phone at 218-844-SHOW (7469).