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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Country Legends’ hums, toe-taps and rolls along in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Daddy D Productions

Scene at Daddy D Productions “Country Legends” show Aug. 5, 2021, at Riverside Ballroom. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Sweet moments flow in “Country Legends,” Daddy D Productions show-and-comedy troupe’s annual visit to country music classics. The performers have a way, and they dress to suit the style.

On the first of two sold-out nights Thursday at Riverside Ballroom, a glitch told a story. Michael Blair is unfolding the caring, tender, sensitive “Three Wooden Crosses,” and just at the right/wrong part near the end – CCCKKKSSSKKKKKK – the amplification goes ca-flooey. The mood is destroyed in a beautiful performance. Then, group leader Darren Johnson crosses over from the spot where he has been singing backup and places a hand on Michael Blair’s shoulder. It’s a human touch.

That kind of indecipherable quality is what makes Daddy D Daddy D.

That and some very interesting talent.

In this show, Darren Johnson and Shelly Johnson team in romance (“Just You and I”) and goofin’ off (“Island in the Stream” done in orange hunting gear as “Fishin’ in the Stream”).

Darren Johnson and Michael Blair shift their voices into the country mode, dropping to a strong maleness and enacting characters all along.

Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder flips her character-acting switch and becomes an all-dressed-up Minnie Pearl, price tag on her flower-covered straw hat and all, to tell a comical story that’s introduced with the trademark “Howww-deee!”

Ryan Sette and Michael Blair let rip in a couple of speed songs, “One Piece at a Time” and “Sold to the Lady in the Second Row,” respectively.

From Kevin Van Ess’s clarinet pours “Georgia,” slow, soulful and filled with aural colors in the clarinet rainbow.

Alicia Michelle is so good on fiddle, she gets two solos in this show – both lighting bolts. Not only is the sound of her instrument distinctively nimble, in the super-popular “Orange Blossom Special,” she hops and dances along with the sounds for special juice in the excitement.

Among the much more in the show is a nifty turn in which Shelly Johnson leads the sweet/sad “Jolene” and Darren Johnson blends the vigor of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” as the two songs become one and “Hee Haw” jokes get new twists and the band adds spots of luster all the way through.

In the darker days of the COVID-19 pandemic as it affected the entertainment industry, worry was expressed about whether audiences would return. At the Riverside Ballroom, some restrictions are still in effect, and Thursday’s audience was certainly eager to experience live performance. And there is nothing like a cranked-up audience to crank up performers. ’Twas an a-live night at the Riverside.

***

Company:

Michael Blair – vocals

Dan Collins – sound and lights

Darren Johnson – vocals

Shelly Johnson – vocals

Nate Kinzel – piano

Alicia Michelle – fiddle

Kurt Rische – drums

Ryan Sette – guitar, vocals

Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder – vocals

Kevin Van Ess – Clarinet, saxophone, trumpet

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performance SOLD OUT: 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show Aug. 6

Info: daddydproductions.com

***

Selections

Act I

“Play Me Some Mountain Music” – All

“Just You and I” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“It Ain’t Me Babe” – Michael Blair, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Wings of a Dove” – Angela Tielke-Zuidmulder, Shelly Johnson, Michael Blair

Novelty tune: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die” adapted – Darren Johnson

“Georgia” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet

“Ring of Fire” – Darren Johnson

“You Were Always on My Mind” – Shelly Johnson

“Sold to the Lady in the Second Row” – Michael Blair, all

“Know When to Fold Them” – Darren Johnson

“The Devil’s Dream” – Alicia Michelle, fiddle

Minnie Pearl story – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Me and Bobby McGee” – Shelly Johnson

Act II

“One Piece at a Time,” Ryan Sette, vocals and guitar

“Behind Closed Doors” – Darren Johnson

“All the Gold in California” – All

“Tennessee Waltz” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Extra story: Frank Kuczynski sits across a table from me during an interview. He’s back in town for a show. He says every time he is in the vicinity, he visits the graves of his parents in Pulaski. Growing up, Frank often spent time during summers on his uncle’s farm. “Between Abrams, Sobieski and Suamico – which is a hub for me – that’s where I cut my teeth,” he says. Eventually, Frank became somebody in country music, famed for his flashy outfits as a rhinestone cowboy and his catchy name, Pee Wee King. He and Redd Stewart wrote a famous song on a matchbook cover one night when riding in their instrument truck. Legend has it. Frank Kuczynski can really spin a yarn about “Tennessee Waltz,” one of the most recorded American songs of all. The official state song of Tennessee connects to here.

IQ joke – Darren Johnson

“Islands in the Stream” adapted – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“Sixteen Tons” – Michael Blair

“Harper Valley PTA” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain” – Shelly Johnson, Angela-Thielke Zuidmuilder, Darren Johnson

Jokes in the manner of “Hee Haw” – all

“Jolene” blended with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” – Shelly Johnson, Darren Johnson, Michael Blair, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Three Wooden Crosses” – Michael Blair

“Orange Blossom Special” – Alicia Michelle

Service salute: “God Bless the U.S.A” – All

***

NEXT: “Rave On,” Sept. 23, 24, 30.

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 on which rock ‘n’ roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed a famed concert Feb. 1, 1959, the night before they died in an airplane crash in Iowa. In the lobby is a special display, a living remembrance, of color photographs from that night at the Riverside along with Holly memorabilia that captures the era. Seating for “Country Legends” is at large round tables for groups and small tables for two 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. Imagine the Green Bay Packers holding practice inside the ballroom. That happened a few times, according to a Packers Heritage Trail plaque outside. Nearby flows the East River, thus the Riverside Ballroom. The Riverside has been the “home court” for Daddy D Productions in recent years.

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