The last time Barb and Larry Smith of Marion took a vacation to Branson, Mo., they could only attend one variety show because of high cost.
“Where we used to be able to go to four or five shows, we had to choose only one because the cost per show was so high,” Barb Smith said. “I am so excited that we are bringing a Branson quality show and a five-course dinner to Marion for Valentine’s Day, and it is less than half of what you would pay there per person.”
The Smith’s Valentine’s Day event will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 at the Marion City Building, where, by reservation, Barb hopes people will enjoy dinner out and three-and-a-half hours of live entertainment.
“We’re calling our show the Ballknockers, a play off the Baldknobbers of Branson,” she said. “The reason why will become evident once the show begins.”
Most of Smith’s performers are Tabor College, Butler County Community College, or Marion High School students well-versed in drama and musical performance. Some, like the Sunflower Cloggers from McPherson, and the Petty Cash Band do not have local connections but fit Barb’s idea of a good time for her customers.
“It’s all going to be family friendly,” she said. “We have everything planned down to the minute and our line-up includes everything from singers, cloggers, comedy acts, and a big band finale.”
Smith said she already had reservations pouring in from Marion County as well as Newton, Walton, Wichita, and Hutchinson.
“I knew when people started calling the week after Christmas I had to figure out what we were going to do,” she said. “In January I was already full-up in the restaurant so that is why we decided to move the whole thing to the city building.”
An added benefit of moving to a larger facility with capacity for up to 300 reservations was a big stage for Smith’s performers.
“We have the nightly singers at our restaurant,” she said. “But for the first time we are taking them onto a stage and giving them a crowd to sing to and interact with. The thing I have learned about these performers is that they love the crowds. You get a packed house and they rise to the occasion.”
Smith said her local performers were her “heart” children and some had been with her since they opened the restaurant in 2006.
“These kids fill the gaps for us,” she said. “Some of our grandchildren are pretty spread out by now, and we get to know these people who work for us as well or better than our own family. I want them to be successful. Giving them a chance to perform on a big stage in front of crowd — this is so exciting.”
Smith said her servers, who also double as singers at the restaurant, were talented enough that they could probably walk on to any Branson show stage and have success.
“I am so fortunate to be in an area where there is such a high level of musical and performance talent,” she said. “These kids are just great.”
Local talent will serve as emcees of the event and act the parts of characters such as Dolly Parton, Andy Williams, Ray Stevens, and the Judds. Also slated for the evening are actors portraying Confederate Railroad and Shoji Tabuchi, famous violin player.
During the entertainment, waiters will serve customers hors d’oeuvres, Caesar salad, prime roast beef, fresh asparagus, baked potatoes, and a dessert.
“You don’t get rich in the restaurant business,” Smith said. “You have to enjoy it or you just can’t do it. It is a very demanding job, but our reward is our customers and our staff. These people become our friends. We learn to know their families. We know when someone is sick; we feel their joys and sorrows.”
Next Thursday, Smith wants to give her customers a special treat.
She has done Valentine’s Day specials at her restaurant before, with themed dinners around a cruise ship, Cajun life, the ’50s, country songs, Elvis, and others. She said each year she tries to top the previous year with something better, but this Branson-like show might be hard to top.
“We have Gene Winkler doing the professional light and sound. We have a photographer scheduled to take pictures. It’s just going to be a lot of fun,” she said.
Smith said her husband Larry was responsible for about 50 percent of her Valentine’s Day plans, and her restaurant staff helped her brainstorm all other ideas.
“I am very fortunate to live and work with such great people here in Marion,” she said. “This is small town life at its finest.”