GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – What does “the USA” mean?
Daddy D Productions show troupe of Green Bay is taking a run at its definition – mostly musically – in its song-and-comedy show playing for three more performances at the Riverside Ballroom.
In the mix are:
+ “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” from World War I. When was the last time that was sung in an entertainment show?
+ Great musicianship, such as the gliding complexity of flashing notes of Kevin Van Ess’s clarinet in “Sing, Sing, Sing” from the 1930s.
+ “The Star-Spangled Banner” to start the show and all the armed forces service songs sung by Michael Blair.
+ A visit from Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, the telephone operator, with Angela Thiekle-Zuidmulder teasing the heck out of a fellow on the line she calls “General” Motors. She asks, “How’s Mrs. Motors?” and admires Mr. GM’s memory for “recalling everything.”
+ “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung gently by Shelly Johnson with the audience listening in pin-drop silence.
+ A boisterous “Rockin’ in the USA” by the full company followed by the lump-in-the-throat “Travelin’ Soldier” with Shelly Johnson singing in guiding care.
+ Multiple songs directly in the spirit of pride in country – “America the Beautiful” to “God Bless the USA.”
+ “America” from the musical “West Side Story” as an instrumental with keyboardist Emily Sculliuffo and violinist Alicia Michelle unleashing the song’s zip with hairpin twists and turns.
+ Darren Johnson as a showman from beginning to end. He has a way with songs – something of a kaleidoscope in voice – with the audience, with music, with the singers and musicians, with humor and with his body, which is big and nimble. A little thing happened in Wednesday night’s show that demonstrated how finely tuned Darren Johnson is. The song “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” – the words on the Statue of Liberty – with the singers singing with only light keyboard accompaniment. The focus was to be on the caring beauty of four harmonic voices. Darren Johnson drifted to one side of the stage and then with a series of looks and nods onstage and off – singing all the time – clued sound man Dan Collins to come to the stage with a hand-held microphone for Michael Blair because his wireless headset was not working. Ever so smoothly and subtly something was quickly fixed to complete the perfection of caring beauty of four harmonic voices.
Overall, the “the USA” is defined in a variety show with a large landscape of time, of singing style and of meaning in songs – stuff for the head, heart, ear… and funnybone.
Another tale: “The Tennessee Waltz,” one of the most-recorded songs in America, is sung sweetly by Shelly Johnson and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder. I flash back to a day sitting across from Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski in an office of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. I ask, “Did you visit the graves of your parents?” The answer: “Yes, I make a special effort to come up here at least three times a year, to pay a visit to my parents’ graves in Pulaski, and to give my respects. Between Abrams, Sobieski and Suamico – which is a hub for me – that’s where I cut my teeth.” Speaking is a man who grew up in Abrams and became country music star Pee Wee King with flashy rhinestone outfits. With writing partner Redd Stewart, he wrote “The Tennessee Waltz.” Patti Page’s lilting 1950 version sold 3½ million copies. Through Pee Wee King of Grand Ol Opry fame, the beloved song has a connection to here in the USA.
Running time: One hour, 55 minutes
Remaining performances: Sept. 22, 23 dinner at 6 p.m. show at 7, with addition matinee Sept. 22 with meal at noon and show at 1 p.m.
Company: Darren Johnson (leader and vocals), Shelly Johnson (vocals), Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder (vocals), Michael Blair (vocals), Alicia Michelle (violin), Steve Seitz (drums), Ryan Sette (guitar), Tony Pesavanto (bass), Emily Sculliuffo (keyboards), Kevin Van Ess (clarinet and saxophone), Dan Collins (sound and lights)
“The Star-Spangled Banner” – Michael Blair
“Swing, Swing, Swing” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet, and band
“Surfin’ USA” – All
“Sentimental Journey” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Michael Blair
“God Bless America” – Darren Johnson and audience
Comedy bit: Letters – all
“Walk Like a Man” – Michael Blair and all
“The Tennessee Waltz” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder
Reading: “Paul Harvey: So God Made Farmers” – Darren Johnson
“Rockin’ in the USA” – All
“Travelin’ Soldier” – Shelly Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmuler, Michael Blair
“America the Beautiful” – Darren Johnson, all
“America” from “West Side Story” – Alicia Michelle, violin, and Emily Sculliuffo, keyboards
“Jump, Jive an’ Wail” – Darren Johnson
“It Had to Be You” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet/“What a Beautiful World,” Dave Ehren, trumpet, and band
“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Darren Johnson, Michael Blair
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – Shelly Johnson
“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” – Darren Johnson
“Oklahoma!” – Darren Johnson, Shelly Johnson, Michael Blair
Comedy routine: Ernestine Tomlin (Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder) phones “General” Motors
“Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” – Michael Blair
Armed forces songs – Michael Blair
“The White Cliffs of Dover” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmuler
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” – Kevin Van Ess, clarinet, and band
“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” – All
“God Bless the USA” – All
NEXT: “God Bless the USA,” Oct. 13, at The Automobile Gallery, Green Bay.
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.