GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – A line that Darren Johnson gives is his group “sells nostalgia.”

True… but there are byproducts of Daddy D Productions shows.

Like musicianship.

Like showmanship.

Like comedy.

Each is present in “Back to the 1950s,” which is running for three more performances in the friendly confines of Riverside Ballroom.

+ Musicianship.

Popular songs of the era included a lot of group vocals, and this show has a lot of harmonies. A prime example is “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with Michael Blair supplying the flashy falsetto.

Leader Darren Johnson doesn’t just sing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” he maneuvers through shadings and phrasing and emphasis and power and color. It’s an old song originally done.

Guitarist Ryan Sette brings a new setting for “What’ll I Do,” a gentle and sensitive/quiet style jazz for Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder to pour her supple voice.

Ever-inventive reed man Kevin Van Ess has at two Elvis Presley classics with his saxophone doing the talking with energy in “Jailhouse Rock” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”

In “America” from “West Side Story,” the voices are keyboard and violin for a spitfire charge. Emily Sculliuffo has her keyboard vibrating as she powers along. Amid Alicia Michelle’s racing notes on violin are separate high-pitch sequences – a whole other voice.

Stepping into another stylistic realm for her, Shelly Johnson becomes a reflective personality in “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” It’s a song from the 1970s movie “Grease” about the 1950s and a woman misread by others. The depth is wonderful and wonderfully rendered.

+ Showmanship.

The group doesn’t just rattle off songs but adds playful stuff.

Kevin Van Ess is a ballroom glitter ball, not the kind that hangs from the ceiling but in the dazzling coat he wears when unleashing “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Darren Johnson and Michael Blair flash knee-wobbles in splashy dancing to “Summertime Blues.”

Darren Johnson tells stories off the cuff, speaks verbal valentines of appreciation to his wife (Shelly Johnson) in front of her and everybody, teases himself, embraces those who serve in the troupe’s traditional military salute (which had the entire audience standing Wednesday) and entertains through imagination.

That imagination plays large in three surprises during the show – all involving Michael Blair – about which I will not let the cat out of the bag.

+ Comedy.

Shelly Johnson takes a crack at a Johnny Carson bit as she becomes the all-seeing Shellnac the Magnificent in a great costume with an exotic headpiece and a bunch of puns that are not so great, but that’s okay because they don’t have to be great.

The three surprises with Michael Blair are very much about laughs.

Darren Johnson has a superior routine dressed as and speaking like Elmer Fudd, with pways on words aww awound. And then his Elmer Fudd sings a love song that leads to a comedy kicker.

That’s entertainment? You bet.


Running time: One hour, 51 minutes

Remaining performances: April 28: noon meal, 1 p.m. show and 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show. April 29: 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. show.


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



Act I

“Wipeout”? – Band

“Little Bitty Pretty One” – All

“Happy Birthdayanniversary” – All

“Stand By Me” – Shelly Johnson, all

“Rockin’ Robin” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, all

“Who Wrote the Book of Love,” Michael Blair, all

Letter tree jokes

“Runaway” – Michael Blair

“Earth Angel” – Darren Johnson and Shelly Johnson

“Jailhouse Rock” – Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

“Splish Splash” – Michael Blair

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Darren Johnson

“Summertime Blues” – Michael Blair, Darren Johnson

“Life Could Be a Dream” – All

Act II

“Heartbreak Hotel” – Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

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

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – Darren Johnson

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – Michael Blair, all

“What’ll I Do” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder and Ryan Sette, guitar

Comedy bit with Shelly Johnson as Shellnac the Magnificent

“Little Darlin’” Michael Blair

“And Then He Kissed Me” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmuder

Comedy bit with Darren Johnson as Elmer Fudd

“When I Fall in Love” – Darren Johnson as Elmer Fudd

“There Are Worse Things I Could Do” – Shelly Johnson

Military/service salute: “That’s America to Me” – Darren Johnson/“God Bless America” – All

Finale: “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay” – All


NEXT: “Stuck in the ’60s,” June 12, 15, 16, 17.

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. Much was donated by Gregory J. Kochiss. 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.