Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Daddy D’s 13th Annual Christmas Show’ shines in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Daddy D Productions

Daddy D Productions’ Christmas show at Riverside Ballroom, Dec. 18, 2019. (Warren Gerds)


Daddy D Productions show troupe of Green Bay has been spreading good cheer throughout Northeastern Wisconsin and beyond this month with a full slate of performances. Its current stop is its “home,” Riverside Ballroom, the history of which lends itself to special songs.

Troupe leader Darren Johnson sets up the songs. He points out the holiday decorations on and around the stage, adding, “but there is no holly” (the plants with red berries). Arriving at that moment is singer Michael Blair dressed in the image of Buddy Holly, the inventive rock ‘n’ roll icon who performed on the same stage in 1959 the night before he met his fate in an airplane crash.

Wearing horn-rimmed glasses and singing in a voice in the manner of Buddy Holly, Michael Blair delivers two Buddy Holly songs with lyrics made Christmasy. “Oh Boy” becomes “New Toys,” as though a child is happy with Christmas toys. “Everyday” becomes “Christmas Day” with lyrics suiting the season.

The audience for Wednesday night’s performance reacted the same way to this Hollyizing at the Riverside Ballroom as with other such Daddy D offerings – with silent interest/fascination. There is an aura about the place and the history and the performance.

This variety show has other standout elements.

Darren Johnson narrates “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the headlong driving rhythms of the Charlie Daniels version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” Not only do the words and rhythm fit, but the clincher to the heat is delivered with the violin force of Alicia Michelle and the band. This is thousand-watt stuff.

Next, out comes Shelly Johnson saying, “I know how to follow that.” She begins with the soft “Away in the Manger,” which flows into “I Can Only Imagine,” which itself evolves into changes of pace and closes with a great big surge of intensity. Shelly Johnson is correct about being able to follow the proverbial tough act to follow.

Cherry-picking some other features of Wednesday’s show.

+ A standing ovation followed the band’s leap into Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Sarajevo,” a burst of Christmas-themed energy.

+ Other top musicianship came without the band, with the four singers ringing in an a cappella “Carol of the Bells.”

+ Weaving throughout were the many pluses of the band, including distinctive touches of Alicia Michelle’s violin and Kevin Van Ess’ clarinet and saxophone (especially featured in a display of showmanship/skill to start the second half).

+ Darren Johnson unleashed his big voice, including in “Mary Did You Know?”

+ A spiritual nature was added by Shelly Johnson, including in “Messiah.”

+ The versatility of Angela Thiele-Zuidmulder included comforting moments of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and her trademark comedy bits of Ernestine of Lily Tomlin fame. Ernestine ringy-dingied Michael Zimmer, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, in big ways in a perfectly timed, pun-filled skit leading into Monday night’s big game against the Green Bay Packers.

+ Michael Blair solos included “O Holy Night,” which he brought to a climax in powerful ways in delivering the words “power and glory.”

+ Among the inventiveness was a deer-hunting skit by blaze-orange clad Darren Johnson and Shelly Johnson that led into high visual comedy in a rap song filled with action that ended with Shelly Johnson, in athletic dance, flopping across the stage in her hunting getup over her formal dress.

In the many incarnations of the phrase “Christmas show,” Daddy D Productions has its own take that draws on individual pluses all up and down the lineup of the troupe.



Michael Blair, vocals

Cody Borley, drums

Dan Collins, sound and lights

Darren Johnson, vocals and leader

Shelly Johnson, vocals

Nate Kinzel, piano

Alicia Michelle, violin

Ryan Sette, guitar

Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, vocals

Kevin Van Ess, clarinet and saxophone

Running time: Two hours, 2 minutes

Remaining performances: (Riverside Ballroom) 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show Dec. 19, 20, 21; (Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center), 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22



Musical selections

Part I

“Wizards of Winter” – Band

“Joy to the World” (traditional) – Darren Johnson

“Joy to the World” (Creedence Clearwater Revival) – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“New Toys” (Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy” adapted) – Michael Blair

“Christmas Day” (Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” adapted) – Michael Blair

“Silent Night” – Shelly Johnson, All

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Deer hunter skit – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“Ice Ice Baby” rap song – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“O Holy Night” – Michael Blair

“Carol of the Bells” (a cappella) – Michael Blair, Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke Zuidmulder

“Christmas (baby please come home)” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas” – Darren Johnson to the music of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with violin by Alicia Michelle

“Away in the Manger”/“I Can Only Imagine” – Shelly Johnson

“Mary Did You Know?” – Darren Johnson

Part II

“Jingle Bells” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet

“Jingle Bell Rock” – Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

“The Christmas Song” – Michael Blair

“Still, Still, Still” – Nate Kinzel, piano, Alicia Michelle, violin

“Little Drummer Boy”/“Peace on Earth” – Michael Blair, Darren Johnson

Ernestine skit – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Messiah (a baby born to save us all)” – Shelly Johnson

“Sarajevo” (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – Band

Cards and letters to Daddy D’s skit

“O Come All Ye Faithful” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Military salute: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – Darren Johnson

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – All


NEXT: (Riverside Ballroom) “Daddy D New York New Year’s Eve!” 7:30 p.m. dinner, 8:35-11 p.m. show.

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 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. 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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