Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘That’ll Be the Day’ Gives New Boost to Holly in Green Bay

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The show is filled with lively and lovely songs from 1959.

For some of the performers, 1959 is two generations ago.

What do they know of the singers?

Not much. A play on that is a running joke in Daddy D Productions’ “That’ll Be the Day: A Tribute to Buddy Holly and 1959,” which opened performances Thursday night in front of a throng at Riverside Ballroom.

First joke: While singing songs of Ritchie Valens (who sang at the Riverside in 1959), the singers is dressed in the manner of Richie Cunningham of “Happy Days.” When asked, he says he knew of Richie but not Ritchie. He is told the history of Ritchie, including that he is the “La Bamba” guy. And then he and everybody else break into a joyous rendition of that forever catchy song.

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Caption: The graphic illustration is the promotion for the Daddy D Productions show “That’ll Be the Day: A Tribute to Buddy Holly and 1959.” The photograph hangs among other mementos on a wall in the box office of the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay. It was taken by Ann Kafka. The photo shows Buddy Holly as he sat on a staircase at Riverside Ballroom on the night of the “Winter Dance Party” of Feb. 2, 1959. (Warren Gerds image)

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The emphasis in the show is fun.

Youthful vigor rules in three of the performers. Buddy Holly was age 22 in 1959. Maria Sausen Hinnendael, Nick Surprise (who wears eyeglasses similar to Holly’s) and Zachary Dickhut are right in that age ballpark. They all have some roots in the Knights on Broadway show troupe of St. Norbert College. For Surprise and Dickhut, that experience shows on stage in their first venture with Daddy D Productions.

As a show, “That’ll Be the Day” turns back the clock in this way: It looks at the performers (all male) who were present in the Riverside Ballroom at the “Winter Dance Party” of Feb. 2, 1959, and represents them in songs they sang or created, with additional hits from 1959 (so the women can sing and saxophonist Kevin Van Ess can lay into a remarkable solo).

+ The representations start with J.P. Richardson, The Big Bopper, in the rousing “Chantilly Lace” sung-enacted by troupe leader Darren Johnson. As usual, Johnson is extremely limber of voice and body. Later, Johnson sings “Running Bear,” which The Big Bopper wrote and was a hit for Johnny Preston. In a cosmic way, J.P. Richardson is part of a comedy bit of Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder as Lily Tomlin’s telephone tootsie, Ernestine. Ernestine connects with another J.P. – Morgan, the banker, for a series of puns on money.

+ Next comes Buddy Holly, with Nick Surprise rolling through a big range of hits that include “Peggy Sue,” “Not Fade Away,” “Everyday,” “Rave On” and “That’ll Be the Day,” sung as a companion to Don McLean’s “American Pie” in the finale. Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” is adapted for the female voice, with Maria Hinnendael and Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder embracing its flowing tenderness.

+ For Ritchie Valens, Zachary Dickhut first sings the slow and smooth “We Belong Together” and “Oh Donna” before “La Bamba” is unleashed.

+ Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts or simply Dion as a solo act, Maria Hinnendael sings his “Teenager in Love” (spurring some singing along in Thursday’s crowd). Dion’s “Where or When” inspires wonderful group harmonies (conducted by Darren Johnson), capped by a sweet lead by Zachary Dickhut in the troupe’s traditional military salute. The name “Dion” also is one of the jokes: Zachary Dickhut sings “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic” as Celine Dion, complete with gown and wig.

+ Waylon Jennings is part of the show, with Darren Johnson first telling his tale in the Buddy Holly saga and then singing his country hits “Amanda” and “Good Hearted Woman.”

The concert of Feb. 2, 1959, at the Riverside Ballroom is the most historic in the history of Green Bay. Buddy Holly was a creative force who influenced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many others, even Elton John. Buddy Holly was alive that night, dead the next – along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Waylon Jennings would become a big star. Dion DiMucci in a few years would write his most meaningful song, “Abraham, Martin and John.” And… performers in 2018 would continue to present lively and lovely shows keeping thoughts of that concert alive.

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Company: Cody Borley, drums; Dan Collins, sound and lights; Zachary Dickhut, vocals; Darren Johnson, vocals; Nate Kinzel, keyboards; Jeff Hinnendael, guitar; Maria Hinnendael, vocals; Ryan Sette, bass; Nick Surprise, vocals; Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder; Kevin Van Ess, saxophone

Running time: One hour, 49 minutes

Remaining performances: Sept. 7, 13 (dinner at 6 p.m. show at 7 p.m.) at Riverside Ballroom (daddydproductions.com). Also, 8 p.m. Sept. 22 at Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center (ashwaubenonpac.ocm)

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Musical selections

Part I

“Chantilly Lace” – Darren Johnson

“Peggy Sue” – Nick Surprise

“We Belong Together” – Zachary Dickhut, plus Kevin Van Ess

“Oh Donna” – Zachary Dickhut

“La Bamba” – Zachary Dickhut, all

“Love is Strange” – Maria Hinnendael, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Running Bear” – Darren Johnson

Ernestine Tomlin comedy routine – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – Darren Johnson, Nick Surprise, Zachary Dickhut

“Not Fade Away” – Zachary Dickhut, Maria Hinnendael, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

“True Love Ways” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder

True love comedy bit

“Everyday” – Nick Surprise

“Crying” – Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Maria Hinnendael

“Oh Boy!” – Nick Surprise, all

Part II

“My Heart Will Go On” – Zachary Dickhut

“I Wonder Why” – Zachary Dickhut, all

“Teenager in Love” – Maria Hinnendael

“Maybe Baby” – Nick Surprise, Angela-Thielke Zuidmulder, Maria Hinnendael

Clean jokes “submitted” by “fans” – All

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

“Rave On” – Nick Surprise

“Sea Cruise”/“Blueberry Hill” – Kevin Van Ess saxophone feature

Buddy Holly story – Darren Johnson

“Amanda” – Darren Johnson, Angela Thielke-Zuidmulder, Maria Hinnendael

“Good Hearted Woman” – Darren Johnson

“Early in the Morning” – Zachary Dickhut

Military salute: “Where or When” – All

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

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NEXT: “Gospel: How Great Thou Art” in three locations.

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; in the box office is a large color photograph of Holly on the back steps of the Riverside. 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.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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