There I sat in the front row of the Jim Stafford Theatre in Branson Missouri with tears flowing down my face. Oh yes, when something or someone touches me in a special way I might cry. I don’t think there is anything unmanly about that at all. I might also laugh, clap my hands, or stomp my foot. This particular show had me doing all of the above! The mark of a good entertainer, writer, movie, or book to me is can they move me emotionally? Make me laugh, cry, dance, get upset or whatever. Somehow move me in some way. I don’t want to just sit there feeling unaffected. The show that was moving me so much was done by one man only Keith Allynn. His show is called “The Diamond Image”, in which he impersonates Neil Diamond.
Keith Allynn as Neil Diamond
I have always liked Neil Diamond! In fact I have many of his albums from back in the day. Neil Diamond’s voice is the purest singing voice I know! Match that with lyrics (that he also wrote) and which I can relate to and understand and you have a rare combination! When I first found out about Keith and read his reviews I wanted to go to his show!
We went over to the Jim Stafford Theatre and they were having a sale on Joey I.L.O. tickets (2 for 1) that day. Joey I.L.O. was highly recommended by someone I had talked to in Branson as being a clean comic that was very funny! We ended up buying I.L.O. tickets that day! The I.L.O. show was on Wednesday at 2 pm. Keith’s show played in the mornings at 10:30. Joey I.L.O. is very funny! He had me laughing so hard! Again, the mark of a good entertainer, writer, book, etc. move me emotionally, which he did! Keith helped out in Joey’s show too! Keith played Lou Costello (the straight man) in Joey’s rendition of “Who’s On First.” It was a nice giving thing that he did and you could see that they had developed a special friendship! Both were sharing the same theatre and both were determined to help each others success! Joey had Keith come out and do a Neil Diamond song as a preview to his show. Keith sang “I’m A Believer”, the old Monkee’s song that Neil Diamond actually wrote! After that Joey asked for two volunteers to compete for tickets to Keith’s show. My wife won our tickets and we decided to go to the Friday morning show (just before we left for home.)
When we got out of Joey’s show it was raining really hard. Standing by the door deliberating on whether to make a run for it or not we noticed that Keith was right behind us looking out the window too. Here we were standing there just the three of us and we talked to him. Keith impressed me as being a totally down to earth guy! From his humble, quiet, yet friendly dispostion it was hard to believe he was actually a veteran performer. He answered my questions about his show telling me that it was a story. Not only does he sing the songs but he puts it in perspective of what Neil was thinking when he wrote them. Having a personal audience with him for that short time was so cool! Seeing how he humbly and personally answered our questions was so refreshing! There was nothing in him that put him on a higher level. In his attitude I saw that he was doing a job much like we do our jobs every day. His job happened to be in entertainment.
Looking back this may have been my favorite vacation ever! Ironically we had no idea we were going to Branson. I was going to have a week off from work and was looking for a place to go online. One day I shared with a friend what I had in mind. We have enjoyed staying at Bed and Breakfast’s in the past and I was looking at South or North Carolina. My friend asked me if I ever thought about Branson Missouri? Checking Bed and Breakfast’s in Branson we found one that caught our eye! Even the name of it “The Hummingbird Inn”, was so appealing! It was a beautiful place nestled in the mountains with a breathtaking view! Factored in of course was the shows we could see for entertainment and we made our reservations. I don’t think I ever looked forward to a trip so much! They say that the anticipation of a get away is almost as good as the trip itself! I have to agree because I couldn’t wait to go!
We had a wonderful time at the Hummingbird Inn. We found loving owners who made us feel right at home. We delighted in the breathtaking view as we looked down from a mountain! We enjoyed all of the amenities the place provided including a delicious big breakfast every morning! The Hummingbird Inn is about 14 miles from Branson. It is just far enough to feel apart from all of the commercial aspects of the city while being close enough to see the big shows that they have!
We saw four different shows while we were there. The first show was one I ordered tickets for while in Michigan. It was put on by Barry Williams (Greg on the Brady Bunch) who along with a team of very talented singers and dancers put together a tribute to the 70’s music show. The next show was the Joey I.L.O. show. He uses the initials I.L.O. instead of the actual spelling because the actual spelling he told us is a mafia name. Joey’s mom and dad were both clowns and the poster that we had him sign is him in normal attire except for his feet which were emerged in clown shoes. In the background is a family picture with all of them in clown makeup! On Thursday night, the only night show we attended, we saw a family called the Haygoods! What a talented group they were! It seems each one could play three or four instruments and the only girl in the group being able to play six if I remember correctly. It was five brothers and one sister and they were marvelous! It was my favorite of the performances up to that point. Then the last morning after we hurriedly packed our things and left The Hummingbird Inn for Branson for the final time we saw something very very special!
Keith Allynn looks just like Neil Diamond did in his prime! In fact there is a post card with both of their pictures and they look just alike! We got there maybe fifteen minutes early but it was not too early for Keith as he was talking to the audience. By the time we were seated we had missed probably half of his pre concert talk. It seems that Keith is gracious enough to come out and answer questions the audience has. He answered all of the questions in detail, even more personal questions about his personal health issue ADHD that he suffers from. The little talk is beneficial as it would be very hard for him normally to perform in front of crowds, but knowing that he is performing for “friends” helps him immensely! Finally he told us to give him a couple of minutes to get ready and the show would start!
It was so cool the way the show opens! There is a big screen with Neil Diamond singing “Soolaiman” and he sings the lyrics “Come she come say, Ride on the night, Sun becomes day, Day shall provide ” and then the introduction from the public address system “A Diamond Image by Keith Allynn”, and without missing a beat Keith appears in the spotlight. “Soo Soolaiman, Soolai Soolai Soolaiman”, he sings in a voice that is the exact of Neil Diamond! I’m sitting there watching this quiet unassuming guy I had talked to a couple of days before and it is hard to believe he is the same guy! The appearance is the same but the stage presence and boldness that takes charge of the audience is all there! If I didn’t know any better I would think I was at a Neil Diamond concert!
As much as Keith gave us perspective on the songs and life of Neil Diamond he was also giving us a great perspective of his own life. You see Keith was an Elvis impersonator for fourteen years. He jokes that he did Elvis almost as long as Elvis did Elvis. He was rated in the top ten Elvis impersonators in the world. That he said would buy you a cheap cup of coffee. He met a young woman who he would fall deeply in love with. Knowing that she loved Neil Diamond he sang the only song he knew in Neils voice over the phone to her. It was a song from “The Jazz Singer” entitled “Hello Again.” He noticed it got really quiet on the other end of the phone. “Was it that bad?”, he said when he was finished. “No, it was beautiful!”, she said through tears. Later she became his wife and that song became theirs! She had a dream and it was almost like she got struck with lightening. She told Keith about it. “I think”, she said “that you should do a tribute to Neil Diamond.” Keith admitted that he sometimes goes in his own direction, so he started a tribute to Elvis Presley. As time passed his wife told him again “I think you should do a tribute to Neil Diamond.” So he started a comedy act featuring all of the impressions he could do. He has over sixty voices he can impersonate including Kermit the Frog. He did a quick Kermit and when he got a reaction he summerized “I do Neil Diamond and it is silent, but Kermit the Frog gets applause!” Needless to say he has taken his wifes good advice and his Neil Diamond Tribute show is fantastic!
So I’m sitting there and tears are rolling down my cheeks because of the song he was singing called “The Story of My Life” It is a simple song like Neil’s usually are with deep meaning. This song just hit me in such a powerful way. The lyrics go like this…”the story of my life, it’s very plain to read, It starts the day you came and ends the day you leave” “The story of my life, begins and ends with you, the names are still the same, and the story is still the truth” I was alone, you found me waiting and made me your own, I was afraid, that somehow I could not be the man that you wanted of me”, ‘You’re the story of my life, and every word is true, each chapter sings your name, each page begins with you” “It’s the story of our times, and never letting go, If I die today, I wanted you to know.”
Keith mentioned that Neil Diamond once said “everyone could find their own song within the vast variety of his songs through the years.” Keith said that the song that fits him was a recent one for Neil(written in 2008) The song that he picked out tells me what I need to know about his beliefs! It was a way that he could witness to us within the framework of his show. It was a way for him to show us his true heart. The song and lyrics follow! Pretty Amazing Grace
“Pretty amazing grace, is what you showed me, pretty amazing grace, that’s who you are, I was an empty vessel, you filled me up inside, and with amazing grace you restored my pride.”
“Pretty amazing grace, is how you saved me, and with amazing grace restored my heart, love in the midst of chaos, calm in the heat of war, showed with amazing grace what love was for.”
“Pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing, pretty amazing!”
I think it is truly astonishing that of all of Neil Diamond’s songs the man who has studied his life and movements and voice so much chose this one as his song! It shows of the depth of his understanding of Neil. In Neil’s own life it is remarkable that he would write such a spiritual song only five years ago, long after all of his other hits. Yet this particular song must have deep meaning to Neil at the present time!
As I think back to being mesmorized by Keith’s abilities in his replication of Neil Diamond another thought occurred to me! Keith can impersonate over sixty people! Keith impersonated Elvis for 14 years. Keith has an act where he looks, sounds, and moves exactly like Neil Diamond in his prime. Yet the Keith that I saw had another side. It was a quiet, peaceful, humble, respectful, and loving side. Keith was attired in a sparkly vest when he did the show. Sometimes while singing he would go behind a wall for a second and come out with a different colored vest on. It happened about four different times! One time he told us it was an illusion! Just as his vest changed numerous times, there must have been a time when Keith had a change in his own life! Keith can do over sixty impersonations and you can say that each one is an illusion, not the real him. I marvel at the talent level it takes for him to convincingly imitate so many people so perfectly! Yet the imitation he does of his Lord without even realizing it, in his own personal, quiet, humble way is the real him! It is truly the best imitation he does! Pretty Amazing!
Click below for a beautiful rendition of “Pretty Amazing Grace!”