BRANSON, Mo. — Sometimes fate will take you by the hand and lead you somewhere without you even realizing it.
It's only when you look back that you notice.
Some of the Mormon families that perform in Branson didn't call it fate when they spoke of their gradual emergence onto the stages there — many called it the hand of the Lord.
Nestled in the Bible Belt, Branson calls itself the "Live Music Show Capital of the World." It's easy to boast that title when the town houses 50 theaters and more than 100 shows, which draw in 7 million visitors annually.
Visitors from all over come to see shows featuring rock n' roll, country, gospel music or comedy, magic and musical theater fit for family audiences. "When we first came, we were told that a famous Las Vegas star tried to put on his regular show here. He had to change his act to survive. The people said that they wanted him to clean up his act or stop," said Sheila Dutton, who, with her husband, Dean, lead "The Dutton" family of performers.
Branson is the kind of town where most people believe in and live by Christian values. There are, after all, 84 churches in town. It's the type of town where you'll see people of many different faiths bowing their heads in prayer before eating in a restaurant, said Dean Dutton, who is also the bishop of the Branson Second Ward.
"Members of the church are the same all over, but in Branson, I will say that our church choirs are amazing," laughed Sheila.
Although the families do not preach or say anything that could be considered teaching the gospel during their performances, Branson sets the atmosphere for a good spirit. The whole community is based on American values. Faith, generosity and patriotism are some of the main themes commonly expressed. Shows there honor veterans and talk about God and country.
Sheila Dutton has received letters from mothers saying that they left the family's show determined to be better mothers. "In the show nothing is said about being a good parent or living your religion — in a good setting, people who are having fun find something," she said.
The Hughes Brothers have been performing in Branson for 16 years. In that time they have been able to attend at least a dozen or more baptisms of audience members, employees and business associates who were first introduced to subtle gospel principles in their shows.
"There is a part where all the brothers sing different love songs, and we show pictures of us walking around the temple after our weddings. People always want to know what those 'cathedrals' are," said Jason Hughes, the second oldest brother.
The Osmonds, the first performing Mormons in Branson, paved the way for Mormon acceptance there now.
"When the Osmonds first came to Branson, the word 'Mormon' was like a cuss word," said Jason Hughes.
Over time, friendships have been formed between the people and performers of different faiths, and the community has changed and been more accepting.
"They can see us now as people that are living their standards and saying, 'Maybe Mormons aren't what we have heard they are,'" Sheila Dutton said.
"It's really made a huge difference in the way the community and the people here perceive the church," said Jason Hughes. "The biggest message we are putting out there is that (Mormons) are Christian, too."