By Brenda Meadows
The multi-talented Todd Oliver and his ‘talking dog’ Irving have returned to Branson with a new family friendly Ventriloquism and Comedy Dinner show at The Playhouse Dinner Theater at Shepherd of The Hills, 5586 W 76 Country Boulevard in Branson.
“It is a quaint 180 seat dinner theater,” Oliver said. “I love it. All the seats and tables face the stage and everyone can see without any obstruction. It’s tiered seating, and that helps too. I love the room because it’s fairly intimate which is great for the effect my puppets, the dog and other animals have on the audience.”
Oliver, Irving and some of his ‘friends’ were a main attraction on the Branson Belle for 13 years. Oliver competed, and fared well, on the popular TV show America’s Got Talent, season 7, in 2012.
“I was a top four finalist,” Oliver said. “It helped with drawing folks to the shows, and I received an offer for a my show to play a casino in Vegas, but I passed on the offer. It was was not a good move for me at the time.”
Before returning to the Branson show scene, Oliver had been ‘touring’ in performing arts centers, dinner theaters and community concert series.
“I still enjoy the road,” he said. “My wife and daughter join me for short trips from time to time, and I was blessed to be home between tours and shows so it did work out. The thing is I had control over my schedule. But with Branson, it turned out to be another great blessing. Playing a tourist destination, and especially Branson, is quite a bit different than a theater road date.”
Oliver received a call last year from Shepherd of The Hills General Manager Jeff Johnson asking if he might be interested in playing Branson again.
“I knew who he was from the Showboat days,” Johnson said. “He had a good reputation and we were able to put something together.”
Ventriloquism attracted Oliver when he was a child.
“As a kid I was infatuated with those little Wooden headed dummies,” he said. “They can get away with saying things everyone is thinking and they always have a charming way to make it funny.”
It also brought the 10-year-old boy through a tough time. He received his first ventriloquist dummy on Christmas morning. Just three days later his father passed away from cancer.
“That little Ventriloquist dummy helped me deal with my loss and sadness,” he said. “I also discovered that the little character could make other people happy too.”
He began performing his “act” whenever he could. After High School he began printing his act in schools, clubs and cruise ships.
As showmen know, there has to be constant changes to an act to keep audiences entertained.Todd came up with an idea that not only got attention. It changed his life.
“One day I was looking at my dog and thought, ‘I bet you would have a lot to say if you could talk,’” he said.
A few months later, Oliver’s Boston Terrier ‘Irving,’ premiered as ‘America’s real talking dog.’ Throughout the years there have been six ‘Irvings.’ Each one has been family pets and lived out their lives in our home.”
After Irving became the famous ‘talking dog,’ Oliver’s success attracted Hollywood agents and he was asked to make appearances on David Letterman’s Ventriloquist Week, The Tonight Show, other national TV shows and some weekly series episodes.
Oliver has played theaters across the country, and is glad to be back in Branson.
“I’ve been very blessed. TV is great fun, but a ventriloquist makes his living doing shows,” he said. “Making families laugh together is the goal. My best memories are those of me and my family all laughing together. I want to make that happen for families across America.”
Showtimes are at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. (5 p.m. after July 27) and 7 p.m. Call (417) 334-4191