Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Daddy D’s Fabulous Fifties Show’ just happens in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Daddy D Productions

Sound check scene before Daddy D Productions’ “Daddy D’s Fabulous Fifties Show” Thursday night at Riverside Ballroom. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

Sometimes things just happen with an audience. Take Thursday night at the Riverside Ballroom. Early in a song, the audience simply rose of its own accord. No prompting. No encouragement. No prodding. Nothing phony at all.

The song happened to be the show-closing “God Bless America,” which has tugged emotions for decades.

But even so, I believe the audience rose because it felt good about oh so much leading up to that song.

Romping songs. Off-the-wall skits. Romantic balms. Disarming stories. Limber musicianship. A showman singing of being in love with “youse guys” – playfully meaning the audience… taking the audience a step beyond being entertained.

There were a number of “beyonds” in Daddy D Productions’ “Daddy D’s Fabulous Fifties Show.”

One is a given. Darren Johnson’s voice is “beyond,” which keeps folks coming to his shows. He has a way of grabbing a song and wrasslin’ it with his voice before unleashing whopper notes – the beyond. One place it happened Thursday night was at the end of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which he dedicated to a couple in the audience, Kathy and Harvey, who were celebrating 72 years of marriage. Darren Johnson’s final note was akin to what you just read and thought – SEVENTY-TWO!

Another “beyond” is Shelly Johnson as Lucille Ball AND Elvis Presley. As the former, she does Lucy’s classic “Vitavitameatavegemint” routine as the ad pitch spokeswoman who gets tipsy from tasting an elixir. Shelly Johnson has done the skit in past shows, and she’s terrific each time as a nimble actress/comedian. Later, she’s Shelvis Presley in a poured-on jumpsuit, answering questions with titles of Elvis’ songs and breaking into “Blue Suede Shoes” as if done by a rubber band.

Another “beyond” is Kevin Van Ess telling a story to lead into a clarinet solo: A TV icon (Lawrence Welk) gets wind of a great clarinet player (Pete Fountain) to hire for his show. The story is loaded with all sorts of details – like the clarinet player was down on his luck and was a pest control guy at the moment – that could only have come from the horse’s mouth. Kevin Van Ess is telling what Pete Fountain told him in a long friendship, and the story has showbiz glitter all over it. Then, in a sparkling jacket, Kevin Van Ess plays “Lady Be Good” in golden, loving tones. Beyond, beyond, beyond.

Overall, the show is filled from start to finish with songs that were hits or famous in the ’50s. The songs tend to be upbeat and have a 10 for rhythm.

Some of the special stuff:

+ The final ooo-OOO-ooo notes of “Book of Love” from Michael Blair, who is new to the troupe but not to the stage, notably musical theater. He also does a turn as Buddy Holly in “Oh, Boy!”

+ The way Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder tunes into the tone of the era’s pop romantic hits.

+ The women’s dresses – white background for bursts of black, flowing musical notes, fringed by pink crinoline.

+ A double showpiece for violinist Alicia Michelle, first richly romantic and then a frenetic flurry – Thursday followed by a gush of approval.

+ A bit for “Love Potion #9” with Darren Johnson dressed in white haystack wig and white coat as Dr. Mel Practice from the previous skit and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder dressed as the gypsy the song’s narrator meets on Thirty-Fourth and Vine. On top of the visual gag, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder lip syncs a male voice to “What you need is love potion number nine.”

+ A song originated by a male sung by a female, who improves it. Gene Chandler made “Duke of Earl” a hit. Even though it’s a “guy song,” Shelly Johnson adds shadings and nuances to it that sound like a better fit. The interpretation also is a bit beyond.

***

Company: Michael Blair (vocals), Cody Borley (drums), Dan Collins (sound and lights), Darren Johnson (leader and vocals), Shelley Johnson (vocals), Nate Kinzel (keyboards), Andy Mertens (bass), Alicia Michelle (violin), Ryan Sette (guitar), Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder (vocals), Kevin Van Ess (saxophone and clarinet)

Running time: One hour, 58 minutes

Remaining performances: 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show June 21 and 27

Info: daddydproductions.com

***

Program

Act I

“Little Bitty Pretty One” – Darren Johnson, all

“Duke of Earl” – Shelly Johnson, all

“Happy Birthday/Anniversary” – All

“Diana” – Michael Blair

“Life Could be a Dream” – Darren Johnson, all

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Comedy routine: “Vitavitameatavegemint” – Shelly Johnson

“Lipstick on Your Collar” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Come and Go with Me” – Michael Blair with Kevin Van Ess, sax

“Theme from a Summer Place”/“Flight of the Bumblebee” – Alicia Michelle

Comedy routine: “What’s Up Doc?” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“Love Potion #9” – Darren Johnson with Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“When I Fall in Love” – Shelly Johnson

“Summertime Blues” – Michael Blair, Darren Johnson

“Dream” – Darren Johnson, all

Act II

“Rock Around the Clock” – Kevin Van Ess, sax, and band

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – Darren Johnson

Comic lead-in book story – Darren Johnson

“Book of Love” – Michael Blair, all

“Who’s Sorry Now” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Comedy routine: Shelvis Presley – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Blue Suede Shoes” – Shelly Johnson

“Why Do Fools Fall in Love” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Duet: “Earth Angel” – Darren Johnson and “Tears on My Pillow” – Shelly Johnson

Duet: “You’re a Moron” to “That’s Amore” – Shelly Johnson, Darren Johnson

“Lady Be Good” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet

“Oh, Boy!” – Michael Blair

“That’s America to Me”/“God Bless America” – Darren Johnson, all

***

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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