After 2022 fire, Branson’s Dutton Family Theater ready to reopen on April 17

Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 8:22 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 9:27 PM CDT
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BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) - One of the best-known entertainment families in Branson will reopen its theater on Monday, April 17, after a fire there forced them to move out last July.

And that’s just one in a series of challenges for the Dutton family, who’s been around for 30 years and boasts 53 members.

Parents Dean and Sheila started it all with seven biological children, and those original nine Duttons started a musical group that gained international fame. One of their greatest moments of notoriety came in 2007 when they were finalists on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

Now there are seven adopted children and a brood of grandchildren who have added to the talented group of musicians, singers, and dancers who’ve graced the stages of the Dutton’s theaters in Branson and Mesa, Arizona.

But on July 13, 2022, a fire struck the Dutton’s theater on West Highway 76 Country Blvd. along Branson’s main strip.

“It changed our lives forever,” said Sheila Dutton, the mother of the Dutton family and the CEO of the family entertainment group. “There wasn’t an inch of the theater that wasn’t affected by that fire. Standing on the stage and seeing the muck and the soot and the damage all around me, I just wanted to lie down and cry in the mess. But we didn’t.”

The Duttons were soon back on stage at Yakov Smirnoff’s theater thanks to his gracious offer of help, and the decision was made to rebuild their fire-damaged building even though there have been a lot of challenges so far.

“We prayed about it and felt we still had a lot to offer,” Sheila said of the decision to rebuild. “But the crazy thing is the cost of materials has really gone up in the past two years. So what was really good insurance coverage back then is not good coverage now. For example, in the electrical room, there’s a panel that cost $1,000 back when the fire happened. But we’ve been told in April of 2023 it costs $4,000 because of a lack of availability.”

And, of course, just like everywhere else, there’s a workforce shortage as well.

“Thank goodness we have a good family,” Sheila said with a laugh. “And they’re not afraid to work hard. It has really brought us all together, and to see some of the things they’ve been able to do brings tears to my eyes.”

The family committed to continuing their Branson tradition by investing around $4 million in the rebuilding project. The inside of the theater is pretty much completed, with new seating, carpet, and a concession area. Outside, the new signage has not yet been started, but it will be an elaborate front with towers and giant musical notes that play music. The centerpiece will be a fountain designed by retired architect Billy Ong that depicts hands in a circle playing violins.

“There will be water shooting out of the violin strings, and we are going to call it our Unity Fountain,” Sheila explained. “Not just for the unity we feel in our family but the unity that we feel in the community. It seems like everybody in the city has wanted to help us, and that’s allowed us to do things that otherwise we couldn’t do.”

This latest setback is just one of several for the Dutton family, including cancer scares and a bus crash in Ohio during a tour in July 2019.

There were 23 people on the bus when it overturned, going around a curve, but everyone survived.

“I remember going from hospital to hospital with the police chief afterward checking on all our family members,” Sheila recalled. “He said, ‘Sheila, that is a dangerous turn, and we usually don’t have happy endings. But yours is a happy ending.’ So we knew that we were blessed and protected. When we went down into the ravine, there was a peaceful calm, and nobody was crying. It didn’t even cross our minds that anybody would die. It did with the first responders, though, because they were used to people dying at that place. A highway patrolman who pulled me out through the window told me to go up the ridge and not come back, and it dawned on me later that he didn’t want me down by the bus because he thought there would be some who didn’t survive. But I have never asked why something like that would happen because I’ve had so many experiences that have taught me that we’re in good hands.”

That faith helps the Dutton family persevere through the toughest of challenges.

But it’s not lost on them that the fire and the bus crash happened in July (in different years).

“We’re definitely going to be careful come July,” Sheila said with a smile. “But there are people who have come into our lives and opportunities that have been extended to us that never would have happened had we not gone through those experiences.”

Starting on April 17, the Dutton family will be at their own theater, performing every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday at 2 p.m.

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