The Big Broadcast takes listeners to the 1940s

 Photo courtesy of Dori Gavitt  The first performance of the Big Broadcast featured (pictured from left to right) Emmy Wrobleski ’19, Bebe Drucker ’18 and Hanna Daninger ’18.

Photo courtesy of Dori Gavitt

The first performance of the Big Broadcast featured (pictured from left to right) Emmy Wrobleski ’19, Bebe Drucker ’18 and Hanna Daninger ’18.

BY EMMA MARTIN ’20

“Boy, do we have a show for you tonight!” local meteorologist Brain Lapis told Chapin Auditorium while opening the first performance of the Big Broadcast Saturday afternoon. Lapis reprised his role as M.C. Fred Kelly, hosting the 12th annual recreation of a live radio broadcast on the fictional station “WJAZ.” Big Broadcast celebrates the golden age of radio with the Mount Holyoke Jazz Ensemble and other soloists performing renditions of 1940s jazz tunes.  

The performance also featured the Mount Holyoke Big Band and the “Starlight Sweethearts,” which consisted of The Vocal Jazz Ensembles and the Chamber Jazz Ensemble.  In the first act, Hampshire College’s Michaela Godding provided a soulful rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket A Tasket.” Hanna Daninger ’18, Bebe Drucker ’18 and Emmy Wrobleski ’19 played vocal trio “The Michaels Sisters,” singing memorable numbers like “Music Makers” and “And Her Bathing Suit Never Got Wet.” 

Mark Gionfriddo, the director and founder of the Mount Holyoke Jazz Ensembles, arranged the musical numbers and commercial jingles for actual products such as “Energine Shoe White polish,” “Brisk Fluoride Toothpaste” and “Pepsi Cola.” Groups of MHC jazz singers performed the jingles between songs.

The singers also acted out an installment of “Life on Honeysuckle Hill,” a fictional soap opera written by the student associate producers with sound artist Cheryl Cobb as Geraldine Leonard. The episode followed the colorful “Huggins” family as they encountered rollicking plot twists. Jazz Ensemble member Alice Simmons ’19 played drunken Huggins matriarch Hazel and really got into character. “For the radio play . . . I wore these really really high heels so I could feel a little [unstable],” said Simmons. “I could not pass a field sobriety test in these heels.” 

The Big Band opened the second act with the iconic instrumental “Sing Sing Sing.” Gionfriddo and Lapis also joined the band for “Mississippi Mud.”

The Big Broadcast was created and directed by Gionfriddo and student associate producers Megan Ferrara ’20, Lauren Ferrara ’20 and Chris Cassidy ’20. Gionfriddo and the associate producers listened to transcriptions of actual broadcasts and researched 1940s hairstyles, makeup and clothing to recreate the experience of a typical radio show of the period. Participants were assigned character names and prepared their costumes and 1940s looks weeks in advance. While the student producers wrote the script, Gionfriddo selected the songs. “There’s a lot of nostalgia with the Great War and the way America came together,” said audience member Maggie Murphy ’21. “And music has always been a huge part of American culture so anything that inspires patriotism [is popular]. Music also connected a lot of folks and it freed a lot of folks from the troubles that they had.” 

Vocal Jazz Ensemble member Lexxey Boron-Smith ’20 appreciated the opportunity to work on the Big Broadcast. “I really like doing this show because I don’t do a lot of theater outside of this,” said Boron-Smith. “This kind of gives us the chance to get dressed up and put on makeup the way that they did and do our hair. It kind of harkens back [to old time]. A lot of our grandparents come and really like it. So I really enjoyed getting into that character.” 

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