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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Daddy D show laced with pin-drop moments

Riverside Ballroom plays big, too.
Darren Johnson
Darren Johnson

GREEN BAY, WISC., (WFRV) – The Riverside Ballroom is a character in Daddy D Productions’ latest show, the engaging (4 stars out of 5) “Forever ’50s,” which continues to Oct. 4. Info: www.daddydproductions.com.

The show opens with Bill Haley and the Comets’ energized “Rock Around the Clock” and “Jump, Jive and Wail.” On opening night, troupe leader Darren Johnson noted that the band (often credited with putting the rock ‘n’ roll era into motion) performed at the Riverside in 1959. “This place has a lot of history,” Johnson said. “It’s really cool to sing up here.”

Daddy Ds also tapped into the locally famous “the night the music lived concert” at the Riverside with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper (among others) in songs in which the troupe tried not to repeat itself from previous shows to avoid becoming stale:

- “Running Bear.” A rhythmic background of “ooga chucka, ooga chucka” feeds the song by George Jones and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper).

- “Peggy Sue.” It’s Holly hit with a hitch in the “Peggy Sue-oo oo-oo-oo-oo.”

- “Donna.” Valens’ hit is introduced by a (kind of eerie) soundtrack of him promoting the Winter Dance Party tour, on which the Riverside was a stop.

These songs are nicely presented. The guys are dressed in all black, with pink ties. The gals (I can say “gals” – this is a ’50s show) in the opening section are dressed in bobby sox and pink poodle skirts. There’s an aura that’s a bit nostalgic but not really because of the now-ness of the live band (Barb Hinnendael, piano; Kurt Risch, drums; Bob Balsley, guitar; Ryan Sette, drums, and Kevin Van Ess, saxophone) and all the songs being from a generation or two before the singers on the stage.

As the opening night performance progressed, something interesting occurred. Each time a singer came out for a solo, the audience grew quiet. People listened intently to every note, every word – soaking in the moment. The crowd gave a standing ovation at the end for a combination of moments that probably included:

- “Unchained Melody.” Darren Johnson introduced the song by saying his mother, Marilyn, who was in the audience, is consistently on him to “sing something nice” instead of being his usual goofy. (A man at my table said he liked to go to Frank’s Dinner Theatre shows, back a dozen or so years, to hear Johnson sing; Johnson has a widely ranging, powerhouse voice). So, Johnson lets ’er rip, with the song rising to a huge final note. The crowd responds in big ways, and the next person to be featured, clever guitarist Bob Balsley, is left to say: “How do you follow that? That’s really awesome.”

­- “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The always-beaming Shelly Emmer wraps herself into the warm, tender song about being separate from a loved one. It was the theme song of Liberace, who among all his glitz, remembered someone with, “I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.”

- “Love Me Tender.” Doug Dachelet had this show’s honors of being featured in the traditional military salute section. Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” a military salute? Yes, it’s also a song of separation with someone yearning for another. Dachelet adds special luster to the song’s climax.

- “Autumn Leaves.” Keri Salscheider embraces this song, yet another one of separation and on opening night started the you-could-hear-a-pin-drop phenomenon for soloists. She also sings the French lyrics.

- “Tammy” (“Tammy’s in Love.”) Maria Sausen tunes into the sweet Debbie Reynolds song, and you can see in her eyes as she imagines “the ol hooty owl hooty-hoos to the dove.”

Salscheider and Sausen bring freshness to songs. The two are in high school, and they’re singing these songs anew, not for the umpteenth time. The versions of the songs they’re given to sing are straightforward – and lovely to hear.

With Shelly Emmer, they add a youthful playfulness to “My Boy Lollipop” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.”

The show rocks, too, in Bob Balsley’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and Kevin Van Ess’ “Yakety Sax,” with him ending up playing while lying on his back on the stage floor and wailing away.

There are some comedy bits with awful puns, including a huge pun keyed to why Green Bay has moray eels. Really? Not really – except in a song.

For me, it was a pleasure to hear Keri Salscheider’s rendition of “The Tennessee Waltz” because of my unique experience with one of its creators. As she sang, I was in an office at the Green Bay Press-Gazette interviewing Frank Kuczynski, who grew up in part near Abrams north of Green Bay. He was in town for a show as Pee Wee King, as millions of people knew him. He reveled in telling the story of how he and co-writer Redd Stewart wrote the tune (on the back of a match box cover, according to him) while riding between gigs. “The Tennessee Waltz” is one of the most-recorded songs of all time. Frank/Pee Wee would love it that his song carries on through someone from another generation.

THE VENUE: The spacious Riverside Ballroom Crystal Ballroom is the heart of the 1936 Art Moderne building on Green Bay’s east side. Performances are on a raised stage that was once graced by such luminaries as Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Joan Jet, the Guess Who and Jimmy Dorsey, and on which rock ‘n’ roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed a famed concert in 1959. Seating is at round tables on the ballroom floor. The ballroom features high, sweeping, laminated wood beams with streamlined, curved decoration at the base of each beam. Hanging from the ceiling are Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Green Bay Packers held practice inside the ballroom a few times, according to a Packers Heritage Trail plaque outside.

AHEAD: “A Christmas Carol” (with Stu Smith), Nov. 21-23; “2013 Christmas Show,” Dec. 12-21 (two locations).

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com.

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