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The Amazing Frederick (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Branson, Missouri

"It's the only Show of its Kind in the Entire World! Internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso, Frederick Antonio, surrounded by 40,000 gallons of dancing, shimmering water and spectacular lighting, plays the world's most beautiful music on two grand pianos at the same time!"

-- Waltzing Waters brochure

Do we imagine it, or does the Branson Visitor Bureau woman's face drop -- for a brief second -- as we gleefully wave two brochures snatched from an out-of-the-way rack?

"This is what we want to see!"

She recovers, all smiles, ready to help us cram as many Branson entertainments as we can into a 12 hour stretch. The evening is locked up with four back-to-back (and very popular) shows, but morning is wide open. And we've zeroed in on two unusual acts. "Let's see -- Frederick and Tony Melendez?" Ms. CofC asks. "Both breakfast shows. Are you sure you wouldn't rather see the Jennifer Show?"


Tony Melendez is a very talented armless musician who plays the guitar with his feet, over at the Remington Theater Complex. The brochure promises: "Special Guest: Red Kneckers, the World's Greatest Baritone Clown!".

Instead, we opt for the glitzier offering -- a man called "Frederick" playing two pianos at once at the Waltzing Waters Theater. Waltzing Waters is colorful spritzed liquid technodrama we've enjoyed in various incarnations around the U.S. The original WW's have dried up, out of business. Branson's the exception, nourished by the Mecca's ceaseless stream of tourists. This show has wisely evolved to include live music performance instead of the prerecorded tapes favored by its extinct cousins.

The after-breakfast audience at Waltzing Waters, a mass of white-haired early risers -- bellies full of sausage and flapjacks -- is primed for entertainment. The pitch-black theater fills with . . . prerecorded music. Dozens of stage-lit water streams squirt skyward. A warm up of synthesized standards and classical bits gives the show's programmer the early spotlight, off to one side at his console, manipulating light beams and water streams. Two grand pianos sit at opposite sides of the stage, and the audience wonders "How is Frederick going to play those at the same time?"


A fat-chorded rendition of "Chariots of Fire" is Frederick's cue to enter, clad in a white tuxedo. He smiles radiantly at the crowd, sits at a piano... and proceeds to play his heart out.

That's Frederick Antonio, born in the Netherlands, raised in South Africa, hailed as a child prodigy, on an extended engagement here since the mid-'90s. He is often praised as "the Shoji Tabuchi of piano," an impressive claim, at least in Branson's closed circuit.

Frederick finishes "Chariots" and stands to greet his audience. "Music, which the world has decided is so beautiful it will last forever...I'm going to play you the notes that I hear in my heart, Jack's going to show you what the music looks like and the way he sees it in his heart..." He grasps the mic in a washcloth -- wise precaution from some long ago moist-theater mishap?

Two pianos at once!

Frederick's repertoire mixes show tunes, religious hymns and timeless favorites -- standard rations for any Branson performance survivalist. "Amazing Grace" shares the wet torrent with the "Tennessee Waltz" and "The Impossible Dream." His style of playing -- flourishes weaving elaborately around the basic thread of each song -- is the eerily perfect accompaniment to the Waltzing Waters.

The master pianist chats amiably with the audience between numbers, who seem somewhat uncommunicative, still busy digesting breakfast. Yet everyone applauds as each recognizable tune syncs up with splashing squirts of water wiggling behind Frederick, his piano slowly rotating in the foreground.

The finale is where his promised feat of dexterity is realized. The grand pianos slowly slide along hidden rails to the center of the stage. Frederick plays, one hand on each, facing away from the audience. The Waltzing Waters go to full gush, rippling a kaleidoscope of color. We can verify, yes, he plays two different songs on two pianos at the same time. But it's like watching a guy juggling chainsaws . . . you're impressed and horrified at the same time. We can't even remember what songs they were, because we were too busy watching for mistakes.

After the show, Frederick, the consummate Branson showman, hangs out in the gift shop lobby. He happily poses for photos or signs CDs and posters for his newest flock of fans. That includes us!

Frederick says: "Listen, enjoy, and remember... that way we can make a beautiful hour like this last forever!"

Update: Frederick Antonio died of a massive heart attack on August 8, 2006. Margaret Lang, a friend of Frederick's and his wife Lettie, wrote to us: "His death is a tremendous loss, not only to his precious wife and dear friends, but to the world of music, as well. He is sorely missed."

The Amazing Frederick

2006 - Frederick died.

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