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Roger Smith

Ann-Margret back in Branson

After four-year absence, entertainment icon returns to Branson stage.

Ann-Margret said she has many fond memories of her last on-stage engagement in Branson, but most of all she remembers the people.

“The people are extraordinary people,” she said. “They are the kind that are really hard-working, they never ask anyone for anything, they are patriotic and good people. That’s the way I was brought up. That’s the kind of people I happen to love.”

Now, after a four-year absence, Ann-Margret has returned to the stage at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre for a seven-week run with her friend of 46 years.

“I was just talking to Andy, and I told him the things I was going to do,” the sexagenarian said in an interview a few days before her new show opened last Friday. “There are only two things in the show now that I did four years ago. Everything else is new.”

In fact, she said, the opening number she sings — the 1967 Jackie Wilson hit “Higher and Higher” — is one she has never performed before. “I certainly hope I don’t mess it up,” she added with a sultry laugh.

New songs, old favorites
The show, she said, will offer a little something for everyone.

Williams gets the musical ball rolling, then introduces Ann-Margret. They welcome the audience with several upbeat numbers including the perennial Samba favorite, “Girl from Ipanema,” during which she undulates around the stage. Williams’ show includes several of his well-known standards including “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Call Me Irresponsible” and, of course, his signature song, “Moon River.”

Ann-Margret takes a short break while Williams entertains the crowd and then, after the intermission, she returns to the stage for her half of the show.

“My own show is usually an hour and 20 minutes, but since (Andy and I) are both doing shows, mine is going to be around 35 or 40 minutes,” she said.

During her half of the evening, Ann-Margret sings, dances, tells jokes and teases the front row with a purple feather boa while belting out the 1965 hit song “Rescue Me.”

Valsjobyn to Chicago
Ann-Margret was born Ann-Margret Olsson in April 1941 in the small village of Valsjobyn (population 150) in Sweden. At one point in the show, she recounts how her father had to leave his wife and 8-month-old daughter in Sweden to find work in the United States during World War II.

“Daddy thought it was much too dangerous to come at that time,” she said. “So we waited. It was five years ’till mother and I boarded a ship and came to America.”

The Olssons settled in Fox Lake, IlI., northwest of Chicago. That’s where she honed her singing talent, harmonizing with her mother to American songs and Swedish tunes like “Violets for Mother,” a lullaby she dedicates to her parents and shares during her Branson show.

A life in the spotlight
During her almost 50-year career on the stage, in the recording studio and on the big screen, Ann-Margret has racked up five Golden Globes and has been nominated for six Emmys and two Academy Awards.

She credits George Burns for discovering her and pays tribute to him with a spot-on impression during her act.

She started her long run of hits playing the daughter of Bette Davis in the 1961 film “Pocketful of Miracles.” She received Oscar nominations for her roles in the breakthrough movie musical “Tommy” and for her performance opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1971 exploration of sexual attitudes “Carnal Knowledge.”

For many younger film fans, it was her role in “Grumpy Old Men” with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon — and its grumpier sequel — for which she may be best known.

“‘Grumpy Old Men’ ... ahhhh,” she sighed. “Jack and Walter ... God bless their souls. I was laughing all of the time. They would always kid each other and play tricks on each other ... and Walter teased the heck out of me. He loved to shock people, and he shocked the heck out of me. He would say (blue) things, and I would say, ‘Walter!’”

Even though Lemmon and Matthau have since died, Ann-Margret still gets her share of working with grumpy old men. At one spot in the show, Williams throws a “fit” over the placement of his stool on stage, and Ann-Margret assures the audience that it’s OK.

She is, she said, “used to working with grumpy old men!”

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By Dave Woods

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