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Festival of Wonder designed to defy expectations

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10 April, 2019 By Becca Martin-Brown

Silver Dollar City calls it the Festival of Wonder, but Rex Burdette, one of the creative minds behind it, might have named it something different, he says -- maybe "The World's Got Talent" or "Nobody Can Really Do That -- Can They?"

Finding those over-the-top acts isn't as easy as it might sound, adds Burdette, entertainment and events manager for the Branson theme park for most of four decades. "These are acts you don't just walk into. These are acts from all across the globe we have scouted."

Of course, Burdette had been laying the groundwork for the Festival of Wonder long before it existed. Traveling the world, booking international acts for World-Fest, he made contacts and met agents who were ready to help him find the "unique presentations you won't find anywhere else."

This year, for example, the festival -- which runs April 10-28 -- includes Phoenix Fire, described as "the world leader in pyro and special effects theatrics."

The multimedia experience created by a 20-year-old troupe from Vienna will fill Red Gold Heritage Hall with lasers, Burdette says. That's the far end of the "energy and activity" spectrum, he explains, while I-Harp Extreme -- with world-renowned harpists Dearbhail Finnegan from Ireland and Marianne Gubri from Italy and an all-new instrument, the "Laser Harp" -- is the more relaxed offering in Riverfront Playhouse.

The fact that he describes that show as "laid back" says pretty much all he needs to say about Festival of Wonder -- but Burdette isn't through yet. He wants to talk about CirqUnique, which brings five new "extraordinary feats of strength and balance" to the Opera House -- "how can someone stand on one toe on someone else's head?" he marvels -- plus Wheel of Danger, an 18-foot-tall revolving pendulum maneuvered by eighth-generation circus performer Jayson Dominguez, and "Rolla Bolla," an "America's Got Talent" routine from sixth-generation circus performer Axel Perez.

Other new acts include a one-man band show and 24-time world-recordholder Albert Lucas' comedic juggling routine, while returning performers include PaintJam with Dan Dunn, high-speed painting techniques on an upside-down canvas, and troupe X-Pogo, vaulting over 10 feet high above Town Square.

Backstage, Burdette is performing his own feats of daring, too. He's already been to Europe twice this year, he's juggling visas for performers to come in to the United States, trying to get all the hazardous looking equipment through customs and make sure everyone is in the park, ready for the three days of rehearsals they have before Festival of Wonder opens.

"Once we get them on the ground, we can get the pieces we planned put together and moving," he says. "I'm always afraid this is the year it's going to break. But it never does."


Festival of Wonder

WHEN — April 10-28
WHERE — Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.
COST — $58-$68
INFO — 800-888-7277, silverdollarcity.com


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