Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Rave On!’ fueled by energy of a legend in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Daddy D Productions

Opening scene from “Rave On!” with Daddy D Productions. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The Riverside Ballroom is a place of real popular music history, and Daddy D Productions show troupe of Green Bay keeps an aura alive with an annual show with a singer in its ranks who hits the spot as an icon.

The show title changes every year. This year, it’s “Rave On!”

That’s the title of one of the songs of Buddy Holly, an influencer in a good way who was featured on a special night at the Riverside – Feb. 1, 1959.

Displays of photos and memorabilia in the Riverside lobby give a picture of what that night was like and who the three major players were. Their fate after their next gig the next night is the line from a song: “The day the music died.”

Three stars display in Riverside Ballroom lobby. (Warren Gerds)

The show “Rave On!” is entertainment with finesse.

Songs of Buddy Holly are woven through. Most are sung by Michael Blair, who adopts the Holly horned-rim glasses look and envelops the Holly singing style, which is vitality spiced by catchiness. Over time, Michael Blair has picked up on and burnished the little hitches added to some notes.

Shelly Johnson and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder sing other Buddy Holly songs, primarily for their moods in the development of the show.

Troupe leader Darren Johnson features songs from two other personalities from Feb. 1, 1959. To open this show, he pours on the excitement of “Chantilly Lace” in the big-voice style of The Big Bopper, adding flashy dance flourishes. Darren Johnson also sings the song that opened the show Feb. 1, 1959, the electrifying “La Bamba” of Ritchie Valens, sung in Spanish.

Riverside Ballroom plaque, Sept. 23, 2021. (Warren Gerds)

For major displays of the feel of style of the era, Kevin Van Ess pours out two big-time featured sections on saxophone complete with all the whistles and bells, so to speak. He makes notes in black and white come out as vivid color in wide-screen Cinemascope. The showy “Rock Around the Clock,” for instance, is played in a showman’s ways. Behind him, the band is right on as part of the energy.

The Daddy D landscape covers other vistas. This and that:

+ Humor flows. Shelly Johnson and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder have a friendly back-and-forth comedy section that includes a tease involving COVID and the Minnesota Vikings. Darren Johnson leads a yarn as a duck hunter who meets afoul of a game warden. An “Elvis Boom Box” brings another presence from the era.

+ Factoids are spliced in from Feb. 1, 1959, such as this: It was just a few days after the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi.

Poster from the famous night, now in the Riverside Ballroom lobby. (Warren Gerds)

+ The women’s dresses are notable: They have the look of music scores – staffs and notes.

+ COVID-19 audience spacing is part of the scene, with seating at a variety of tables spread over the large ballroom floor. There’s a feeling of largeness.

+ One nifty song: “I Wonder Why” with the singers splashing in harmonies and do-wop vocal tricks.

+ Darren Johnson’s musicality surfaces subtly. Michael Blair sings “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” which is about sitting and crying and being down in the dumps over lost love. Darren Johnson reacts as if the mood is a bit much, so he embeds a countrified “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life” into what Michael Blair is singing.

+ For the musicians’ featured sections, a different course from the style of the show is taken to show off the talents of Alicia Michelle on violin, who plays pop and classical. She teams with keyboard player Emily Sculliuffo for a breezy, bright, quick and elegant selection on violin, titled “Banjo and Fiddle.”

+ The climax of the show is the traditional military/service salute of the troupe. This time, the sensitivity is rooted in “Three Stars,” which was written by Eddie Cochran for Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. The words also could apply to the loss of a service person. One phrase: “Gee, we’re going to miss you. Everybody sends their love.” Smoothy transitioning in is Shelly Johnson in “Amazing Grace.”

+ The finale is upbeat with meanings part of the atmosphere: “American Pie” of Don McLean (with the line “The day the music died”) and “That’ll Be the Day” of Buddy Holly.

The show is lively and full. It feels complete.


Company: Michael Blair, vocals; Dan Collins, lights and sound; Darren Johnson, vocals; Shelly Johnson, vocals; Alicia Michelle, violin; Emily Sculliuffo (keyboard); Ryan Sette, guitar; Steve Seitz, drums; Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, vocals; Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

Running time: One hour, 52 minutes

Remaining performances: Sept. 24 and 30 (6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show)




Act I

“Chantilly Lace” – Darren Johnson

“Rave On” – Michael Blair

“Fade Away” – Michael Blair, Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Comedy duo – Shelly Johnson and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Wishin’ and Hopin’” – Shelly Johnson and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Raining in My Heart” – Shelly Johnson

“Blueberry Hill”/“Rock Around the Clock” – Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

Comedy duo/ “Magic Elvis Boom Box” – Darren Johnson and Shelly Johnson

“Love is Strange” – Darren Johnson and Shelly Johnson

“Running Bear” – Darren Johnson

Comedy duo/ “Packer Clackers” – Darren Johnson and Michael Blair

“True Love Ways” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

1959 flashback facts

“La Bamba” – Darren Johnson

“Oh Boy” Michael Blair, all

Act II

“Jailhouse Rock” – Kevin Van Ess

“Come On, Let’s Go” – Darren Johnson, all

“I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” – Michael Blair/ “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life” – Darren Johnson

“Peggy Sue” – Michael Blair featuring Steve Seitz, drums

“Maybe Baby” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

1959 flash card facts

“My Heart Will Go On” – Shelly Johnson

“I Wonder Why” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Michael Blair

“It’s So Easy (to Fall in Love)” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

Comedy bit: “Duck Hunting” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson

“Donna” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson, band

“You’re the One” – Michael Blair

“Banjo and Fiddle,” Alicia Michelle, violin, and Emily Sculliuffo, keyboard

Service salute: “Three Stars” – Darren Johnson, all/ “Amazing Grace” – Shelly Johnson

“American Pie”/“That’ll Be the Day” – All


NEXT: “Celebrate Sinatra,” Oct. 7, Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center.

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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