By Lynette Carrington
For musically gifted twins, Barbara and Brenda Barleen, running and performing in their family-owned and operated musical dinner show is a rewarding labor of love. With comedy, a bit of acting and improv and lots of live music by wonderfully talented musicians, there is never a dull moment on the Barleens Arizona Opry stage in Apache Junction. From classic country western to vintage rock-and-roll, there are a variety of fun, toe-tapping shows that will leave you cheering for more.
The origins of the dinner show began with the Barleen twins’ great-grandfather, Albert Loofburrow, and grandfather, Charles Barleen, who were both barn dance fiddlers in Kansas. Their father, Lloyd Barleen, also became a musician, so you could say that entertainment and music definitely run in the family. “We grew up with music,” says Brenda Barleen. “It’s all we know." Their home was always filled with music and hoedowns and jam sessions were a constant in their lives. “Mom would cook and dad would play the music and that’s where the dinner show concept originated,” explains Barbara Barleen. There are eight kids in the Barleen family and six of them are musicians.
The Barleen Family Country Music Dinner Show ran in Estes Park, Colorado beginning in 1978. “Mom and dad’s focus was to keep us busy and keep us out of trouble,” notes Brenda. “Daddy didn’t want us playing in bars because he knew we were going to be musicians,” adds Barbara.
The family then looked for opportunities to escape the cold winters in Colorado and discovered Arizona. The Apache Junction theatre was built in 1986 and opened in 1987. “We found this spot in Arizona and we started off touring the big RV parks and we did that every winter,” explains Brenda. “We got busier and busier,” adds Barbara. Now performing exclusively at their venue in Apache Junction, the Barleen twins and many of their family and extended family members remain committed to providing the finest in entertainment and the best in down-home service. The Barleens Arizona Opry season begins November 13, 2015 and runs through April 30, 2016.
The Apache Junction theatre includes Brenda’s youngest daughter, an ASU graduate who runs the video. “She may not be talented musically, but that little girl runs that video and does a whole show by herself!” says beaming aunt, Barbara. “She’s very creative and runs seven different cameras. She’s very talented with what she does. Our brother, Jeff, does our lighting and does some audio, too. We also have a professional audio technician. We’re excited about him because he used to work with Andy Williams doing audio, plus he was his road manager. He understands musicians.”
“There are three Barleens left-Brenda and me and Jeffrey, our baby brother,” says Barbara of the remaining performing family musicians. Though the family's roots were in country music, today the shows showcase many kinds of musical styles. “Our musicians are all so different and come from different backgrounds, so the shows are very different and there’s a lot of versatility. Our musicians come from all over. We have a guy who’s been in Vegas, Reno and Southern California – he’s our jazz musician and does woodwinds and has a great voice.” Other musicians are seasoned performers that come from Branson, New Orleans and other cities that are hotbeds of music.
Among the returning performers is Michael J, a comedian and vocalist with a six octave range. He does a dead-on impression of “The Andy Griffith Show’s” Deputy Barney Fife and entertains the crowds as they get ready for dinner in the theatre. He also does remarkable impressions of Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley and more. The entertainer is back with Barleens Arizona Opry after finishing with Branson’s 2014 Comedy Show of the Year, "Barney Fife Fully Loaded Comedy Tribute." Don’t miss Michael J and all of the stellar talents that grace the stage throughout the season.
Shows include the Season Opening Show occurring in November only, Country Jubilee, “Willie” and Friends, Bobby VonRooy and CC Ryder, Mark Lucas and “The Wild Bunch,” Old Time Rock and Roll Show, Island Time with Paul McDermand, Liverpool Legends, Society of Seven, A Tribute to Don Knotts, plus special shows for Thanksgiving, Christmas, the holidays and New Year’s Eve. Most all shows are appropriate for the entire family. Check with the box office for further details.
Don’t forget that shows come with a delicious down-home meal prepared and served up by the most efficient and caring staff that treats each guest as part of its own family. Some of the staff cooking and delivering the hot plates of food include the very performers that you will see later on the stage! Dinner includes slow-cooked roast beef, creamy Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with classic pan gravy plus a tender grilled chicken breast on a bed of savory wild & long grain rice, steamed vegetable medley and whole wheat roll. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are also available. You certainly won’t want to miss dessert before dinner! The Opry Chocolate Cake is the stuff of delicious legend, created from a treasured Barleen family recipe.
There is simply no better value for dinner and a show than at Barleens Arizona Opry. The adult price for dinner and a show is only $39 and children ages 4-12 are only $30. Where else can you experience world class musical entertainment and a fabulous dinner in a beautiful setting for such a great price? There are also a limited number of show-only tickets without a meal available for each performance as well as special pricing available for groups of 22 or more.
“It’s always been a lot of work, but it’s been a labor of love for us,” says Brenda. “With the help of our family members, we have built-in success because of consistency,” finishes Barbara.
Barleens Arizona Opry is located at 2275 E. Old West Highway, Apache Junction. Visit www.azopry.com for additional information and call (480) 982-7991 to order tickets for current season. Tickets go quickly, so call today!