Country shows, comedy fill Mission barn throughout Winter Texan seasons

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Rows of aged, mismatched theater chairs fill the old barn that was once known as the Chicken House Opry in Mission.

At ten-’til-2 p.m., nearly everyone in the audience had been seated and were silent, ready for a country music show.

010414.MUSIC_VALLEY_THEATRE.jm.008In the back, a young woman wiped down counters at a makeshift concession stand as another smiled, took $10 and tore a ticket for the last person to arrive at the Music Valley Theatre.

Since 2007, the spot served as the home to a variety show put on by Winter Texans for Winter Texans — and anyone else who was interested in music and slapstick comedy. It closed its doors last season.

Elaine Clark decided to reopen the venue under a new name, new management and with a new line-up.

“It was just time to start fresh,” the retired educator said. “All of us need a facelift now and then.”

Music Valley Theatre will feature several different shows, such as the Rhinestone Opry every Saturday and Sunday, which includes tributes to country music legends such as Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells and George Jones with “The Judge” (Mike Botello) hosting and a Minnie Pearl impersonator providing breaks of laughter.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons there will be out-of-state performers, local acts and shows featuring rock ‘n’ roll oldies, vaudeville and more.

Each performance is a matinee, starting at 2 p.m., but the doors open at noon for those who want to mingle and enjoy lunch first at the concession stand. Tickets are generally $10 each, Clark said, but some shows may cost a bit more.

“The Judge” introduced Clark as she pushed aside a curtain and entered stage right. She sang a song to introduce her backing band Rhinestone Rodeo.

When bass player Herb Caudill got his cue, he smiled at the audience and then played one of the most beloved George Jones’ tunes of all time: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

010414.MUSIC_VALLEY_THEATRE.jm.001Though he only vaguely resembles “Possum,” Caudill seemed to channel Jones when he opened his mouth to sing. Heads turned and jaws dropped when the country fans heard the deep baritone.

“Herb has a wonderful voice,” said Donna Johansen during intermission. “He does a good job on George Jones, that’s for sure.”

Johansen, a Winter Texan from Ontario, Canada who’s staying in Alamo, smoked a cigarette outside with her friend Marie Haynes, who drove 3,500 miles from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada to South Texas.

“I smiled a lot,” Johansen said of the first half of the show.

Marie agreed, and neither could choose a favorite part.

“It was fabulous,” Marie said. “I’m enjoying every bit of it.”

About 15 minutes later, the performers returned to the stage to finish the final hour.

“Howwwwdeeee!”

A slight woman in a floral dress and a straw hat with a price tag still attached took the stage as the audience hollered back a loud “Howdy!”

As Minnie Pearl, Janie Preston got the biggest laughs from the crowd last weekend.

She has been performing at winter shows in the Valley for a number of years, including at the Chicken House Opry, but back then she played another celebrity.

“I used to be Dolly Parton, and there are two big reasons why I really couldn’t do a very good job at Dolly Parton,” Preston said, pausing for a laugh. “And so a lady came up to me one day when I was all dressed up in Dolly’s clothes and she said, ‘You know, you look just like Minnie Pearl.’”

So Preston studied Pearl’s act, adopted her look and took it to the stage for this season of Music Valley Theatre.

Other characters made appearances, such as Melody Pius and the Pius Family and cousin Ruby Pearl, and at the end of the show, each performer made themselves available to their fans.

Music Valley Theatre shows will run through March 30. For more information on the shows, call (409) 939-3062.

Adam Wratten

Adam Wratten is Online Editor for The Monitor.

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