By Emily Harrison Weir
For a few hours on Sunday, March 8, audiences at Mount Holyoke College may feel that they have traveled back in time to an era when Big Band music and elaborate hairstyles were all the rage. “The Big Broadcast!”—a musical extravaganza now in its tenth year—will recreate a 1940s-era live radio program on the stage of Mary Woolley Hall’s Chapin Auditorium.
The College’s Big Band, Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and Chamber Jazz Ensemble will take center stage under the direction of Mark Gionfriddo. Some 30 students will perform well-known tunes and songs from swing-era greats including George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Andrews Sisters.
The show also features vintage 1940s news and commercials (Buy Brylcreem!), and a special guest appearance by Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella. Local TV meteorologist Brian Lapis will appear as the show’s emcee.
Performers have learned how to sound like 1940s musicians and vocalists, and they will don era-appropriate clothing, hairstyles, and makeup for the event.
Campus performances will be given at 2 and 7 pm. See below for ticket information.
“The 1940s? Who really cares?”
When Jazz Ensembles Director Mark Gionfriddo first floated the idea of a 1940s-style performance to his students, he expected them to say, “The 1940s? Who really cares?” But he found that students were "totally into it from the beginning."
"I remember seeing the show and being drawn into the intoxicating energy of the performance," said Sarah Carter ’17, a biochemistry major and music minor from Duluth, Minnesota. This year Carter is playing bass in the Jazz Ensemble. "It's music that appeals to me because it has so much room for soul and individual expression, and this kind of freedom makes it a joy to play," she said.
Rachael Chambers ’17 of Saratoga, California, is vocal jazz coordinator and stage manager, one of several students coproducing this year’s show with Gionfriddo. Students get excited about “The Big Broadcast!” for several reasons, she said.
“The show is a way to bring back elements of musical history that people enjoy. Big-band-style music appeals to the innate desire to dance and have a good time. And it provides an opportunity for people to appreciate what was popular in a decade they may not have personally experienced," said Chambers.
Gionfriddo’s big brainstorm.
Gionfriddo, whose brainchild "The Big Broadcast!" was, said he’s always been musically inquisitive. He arranged jazz music for his first band at age 11. Since his teens, Gionfriddo has loved Glenn Miller’s brassy sound, and he performed an informal version of “The Big Broadcast!” even before coming to Mount Holyoke in 1986.
Gionfriddo chooses his student producers each fall. He selects the music, but the group collectively creates the script, writes the commercials, sources vintage costumes, and puts the whole show together in about six weeks of intensive rehearsals.
“There are many layers to this experience,” said Gionfriddo. “The 1940s were a completely different time.”
Be there for the broadcast.
Tickets for the March 8 performances are $20 for premium seats, $15 for regular seats, and $10 for seniors and students. Advance tickets are on sale at the Odyssey Bookshop, by phone (413-545-2511), and online.
The show's sponsors include Mount Holyoke College, Baystate Medical Practices, PeoplesBank, the Loomis Communities, New England Public Radio, the Westfield News Group, and WWLP-22 News.