BootLeg Betty

Jennica McCleary: Something divine at the Legends of Branson – Thru May 19th

Mister D: I have met Jennifer and she is fabulous, not only as an entertainer, but as a person. Very warm, gracious, great peronality, and witty. I believe it was Vegas where we met. So if you get the chance to see her work her magic, please do. She’s a hard worker at her craft and loves it to boot and would love to see other BetteHeads in the audience. Oh, and she’s gorgeous!

NewPort Independent
Something divine at the Legends of Branson
by Tommy Jackson
April 10, 2015

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There is something “divine” going on at Legends in Branson. Thru May 19 anyway.

No, the real “divine Miss M” is not there in person, but Jennica McCleary as Bette Midler is about as close as it gets.

You guys know about Legends. It’s great bands, great dancers, and great performers. You have five performers honing the crafts they have practiced tirelessly for years. Typically the end result is five great sets in a Legends show… two hours or so of wonderful entertainment.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mediocre act at Legends in fact. But Ohio native Jennica McCleary takes her 20 minutes on stage a step above. She’s spectacular! Not that those who precede her and follow her aren’t multi-talented, it’s just when “Bette Midler” takes the stage, it’s hard to follow. Sorry, I said “Bette Midler”, didn’t I? After you see Jennica, you will see how easy it is to make such a mistake. Jennica bears an almost eerie resemblance to Bette; she also sounds like her, a lot if you will.

She is in complete control on the stage. This is not the irreverent, bawdy Bette Midler tribute you would see if it were watching Jennica in Vegas, but we all but guarantee you are going to come away more than pleased with the “Branson” version. I loved and tapped my foot to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy“; I loved and had a lump in my throat during “Wind Beneath My Wings“. Every number I heard was memorable!

Visiting by phone with this quickly likable individual a few days ago, I learned her opening night in Branson was almost one for that tourist mecca’s book of unforgettable moments. First the strap on her swimsuit broke during rehearsals. Later her shoe came unstrapped, but those two mishaps were mere trivalities when she came dangerously close to experiencing a major wardrobe malfunction as her dress was literally coming apart, during the actual show no less. However in the best tradition of the show must go on, Jennica repaired her dress as she continued to perform, and in a response we believe would have warmed the real Bette Midler’s heart, Jennica said, “Hey it’s opening night; what do you want for $30?” She probably already had them before, but after her brilliant recovery, the audience was hers!

Jennica is a tall, statuesque redhead, and if you think she looks like she’s been in a beauty pageant or two, she has. She is a former first runnerup to Miss Ohio where she won preliminaries in talent and swimsuit.

Jennica is a Canton native and graduate of Fairless High School. Her many talents started to come out early on in musical theater when she appeared in the likes of “Man of La Mancha” among others. Winning rave reviews in each production she appeared, Jennica opted to go on the road to similar results. It was during that time that she decided to follow her dream of creating her own tribute show to the Divine Miss M.

After studying Midler’s live tapes to get the star’s walk and other nuances mastered, Jennica kicked off her Midler tribute in Las Vegas at the Aruba Hotel in May, 2007. The complete show covers all facets of Midler’s great career, up to the gut-wrenching “One For My Baby” which she performed as the final guest for the final show of her dear friend Johnny Carson.

As luck would have it, just as Jennica was getting her Midler show established, the real Bette signed with Caesar’s Palace to do a two-year run. At that point, Jennica put her Bette on the shelf and went back to her pre-Bette Vegas routine of singing with three bands and two vocal groups.

If you haven’t already guessed by now Jennica McCleary wears a lot of hats and from what we have seen (and read), she seems to wear them all well. For example, she is a great singer, dancer and actor. She’s been in regional productions all over including “Titanic” and “Jekyll & Hyde” among several others. She has choreographed other well known productions including “The Rocky Horror Show”. In addition, she worked in wig styling for the Broadway production of “Pajama Game” and has served as a dance/voice instructor at the Las Vegas School of Dance and Music.

One of the many questions I had for Jennica was “has she met the ‘real’ Miss M?” She has indeed, and there is a funny story there. The time was 2005 in New York City. Jennica had gone to a record shop to pick up a copy of Bette’s latest CD. The deal was that if you bought the product, you got a wristband and could come back that evening and have the Divine Miss M sign the CD. Jennica remembers freezing rain was falling on the bitter cold night. “My fingers were frozen”, she recalled. She was clutching an early promo picture of herself as Bette when she approached where the star was signing. “Just for the heck of it,” she laughed. The store manager who was standing by the seated entertainer wanted to take a look at the photo. He was impressed enough to show it to Bette, who took a look and quipped, “I thought that was me.” I think you will think she’s the real deal as well when you see her at Legends (on the strip in the former American Bandstand Theatre). Check their website for schedules and ticket information.

Jennica dreams of taking the full two-hour show to opening off Broadway. She will likely be in that area later this spring when she heads to the Northeast after her Branson run comes to an end. Someone will be calling her soon for work you can rest assured. She’s too talented for that not to happen. On down the road, she would also love to star as the Divine Miss M in a television Movie of the Week. I can see that happening certainly. The sky is the limit for this amazingly talented performer.

Tommy Jackson is a former newspaper editor who now writes a weekly entertainment column. Contact him at tommyjackson1a@yahoo.com

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