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‘The Ruby Room’ brings R&B venue to Branson

By David Stoltz

Those attending the ‘pre-opening’ of The Ruby Room in the Majestic Theatre, 2849 Gretna Road, on June 17. got a preview of ‘Dancin’ In the Streets - A Motown Revue’ on Wednesday, June 17.

The “Dancing in the Street” preview on June 16 includes performances by singers Earl Lee, Derek Ventura, Ditannual ‘Doc’ Hutchinson and Andre Shepard with a medley of Motown hits. (Photo by Marshall Meadows)

It was a blast from the past with Motown memories.

Derek Ventura, who was lead singer of “The Drifters” from 1972-84, felt it was time for “Branson to have a room that was intimate, where everyone can enjoy. R&B (Rhythm and Blues) and jazz.”

As the theater’s name suggests, be prepared to ‘see red’ from the curtains and walls to the stunning ruby red floor. The 2,700 square foot theater seats 80 in an intimate setting. The Ruby Room is a venue that offers a stage, seating with tables or a place to host a party. It offers four shows weekly – a 1950s show, “Doo-Wop and the Drifters” Wednesday and Thursday nights and a 1960s show, “Dancing in the Streets – a Motown Revue” on Friday and Saturday nights.

While many Branson Gospel or country shows cater to morning or after-lunch crowds, The Ruby Room’s shows are more matinee to-evening type shows, Ventura said. They will also offer table service with appetizers, flatbreads, desserts and a bar service.

“We have built this to be a showplace for rhythm and blues in Branson,” said Ventura.

Originally the show was set to open April 1, but the coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold. Now, full occupancy is allowed where families and groups can be accommodated, although social distancing guidelines will still be observed.

Ventura, a New York native who has been in the music business since the age of 13, was a 19-year-old lounge and wedding singer with a nine-piece band when he learned the Drifters were looking to replace a member who had gone solo. He was among approximately 50 auditioning for that role and, to his advantage, “I knew all of their hits” and had already performed many of them with his band. Ventura toured with The Drifters until 1984 when he left to pursue a solo career.

All these years later, he and his wife and business partner Kay, were looking for a final destination “that spoke to both of us in our retirement, not myself from the music industry but just from a life on the road.”

Derek Ventura and his wife/business partner Kay talk about how their new venue The Ruby Room became a reality. ( Photo by Marshall Meadows)

“I was always on the curious side why they called Branson the ‘show capital’ or ’live capital of the world,’ when I performed in all of the major music capitals in my lifetime,” he said.

The two did their research, trying to decide “hey, where would be a good place wherein I can still do my thing musically, without having to go on the road?”

They drove from Denver to Branson, rented a cabin and took in some shows.

“On our way back home we both agreed that Branson spoke to both of us because of the ‘hospitableness’ of all the locals here,” Ventura said.

Ventura performed with the Hot Hits Theater in downtown Branson from 2016-2018. Originally hired as one of the singers, he was offered a show when it was learned he had been with The Drifters. And in 2018 his “Doo Wop and the Drifters” show won Best Male Vocal Group at the 2018 Branson Awards Show.

But, he put things on hold in 2019.

“It gave me time to do road shows – not that many – to keep the group fresh,” and gave him time to look at local theaters. A friend put him in touch with the owner of the Majestic Theater, who was able to provide the space Ventura was looking for. Around the start of 2020, Ventura had found his space. But the neglected third floor needed work.

“So we decided that we could do something with this and turn it into our vision for a theater,” he said.

Kay designed the interior, and Ventura’s in-laws not only helped prepare the theater, his brother-in-law was the prime contractor.

“Everything you see was kind of a family affair,” he said.

Ventura sings first and second tenor and baritone in both shows. The show’s other members include Earl Lee, tenor and baritone, originally from St. Louis; Ditannual “Doc” Hutchinson, a longtime Branson performer and originally from Detroit, sings second tenor, baritone and bass; and Andre Shepard, a long time performer in Branson as well, sings first and second tenor and baritone in the Motown Revue.

Eventually Ventura plans to add a jazz Sunday brunch with live jazz musicians and has plans for a “blues night” with live blues musicians.

“Those two styles of music all encompass rhythm and blues, and so I want this to be recognized as the showplace that Branson has for all types of music in the rhythm and blues genre,” he said.

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