2004-04-22 / Front Page
Salk students bring 1920s roaring back ‘Good News,’ the spring musical, plays this week at Old Bridge school
Salk students bring
1920s roaring back
‘Good News,’ the spring musical, plays this week at Old Bridge school
BY SUE M. MORGAN
OLD BRIDGE — Flappers, speak-easies and Charleston contests, just a few staples of America in 1928, will be the cat’s meow again this weekend at the Jonas Salk Middle School.
Fun and frivolity at a football-crazed New England College during the Roaring ’20s come to life in "Good News," the school’s spring musical, which will play the Salk auditorium tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday night.
At Monday night’s dress rehearsal, more than 65 exuberant sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders danced the Charleston and "The Varsity Drag," one of the show’s most colorful musical numbers, with girls dressed as flappers and some boys sporting prep school-style knickers, white shirts, sweaters and vests.
However, the show is more than another opportunity to act, sing and dance for relatives and friends. The teachers producing the musical have tied it in with the eighth-grade social studies curriculum covering American life in the 1920s, according to Chris Hilfman, the show’s director.
Brainstorming with fellow teacher Stephanie O’Bryan, who teaches social studies, Hilfman chose "Good News" as a means of showing the play’s cast and crew what life in the 1920s was really like.
"[The curriculum] just seemed like a good thing to incorporate with the play this year," said O’Bryan, who is serving as stage manager.
Both teachers, along with Kathleen O’Rourke, a math teacher and the play’s co-director, saw how elements of each subject curriculum could be tied to the production to make the events and culture of the 1920s come alive.
"Good News," which is also a 1947 movie starring Peter Lawford and June Allyson, is not often produced on local school and community theater stages, Hilfman said.
"We try to do something that hasn’t been already done before," Hilfman said.
The cast and crew members are enjoying the light, breezy, upbeat jazzy tunes such as "You’re the Cream in My Coffee," "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" and "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" by composers Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Buddy DeSylva, the director said.
Instrumental music and band director Frank Batsch has assembled an orchestra of band members from Old Bridge High School and adult musicians to recreate the freewheeling spirit of the music, Hilfman said.
"The kids love this music," she said. "The musicians are great."
"Good News" takes place at fictitious Tait College, where Tom, the football team’s star quarterback, learns that he cannot play in the school’s "big game" against rival Colton College unless he passes one professor’s astronomy test, a feat he has failed several times.
Though engaged to the glamorous Pat, whose wealthy father runs the prestigious Bingman Foundation, Tom agrees to be tutored by his fiancée’s studious, unlucky-in-love cousin, Connie.
Tom passes the astronomy test with flying colors, but finds himself falling in love with Connie, a situation that could undermine his plans to be financially secure by marrying Pat and joining her well-to-do family.
In one of her lines, Pat personifies just how naive she and some other Americans were at the time by believing that the stock market of 1928 is "the safest investment around," Hilfman said.
A scene where the Tait and Colton football teams do meet on the playing field is worth a special look as Hilfman and her colleagues have choreographed the players’ moves in slow motion, timed just right, similar to the instant replays seen in today’s televised sporting events.
As for the history lessons, today is Roaring ’20s Day for a number of Salk eighth-graders as they move through learning activities related to that time in each class period, O’Bryan explained.
In math classes, students will set up the speak-easies, which secretly conducted liquor business underground during Prohibition. Drawing upon mathematical probabilities, the students will try to figure out how to avoid being raided by government investigators," O’Bryan said.
"They’re going to try not to be found out by the G-men," she said.
Readings from "Inherit the Wind" and discussions about Darwinism and the Scopes Monkey Trial will be discussed in English literature classes, O’Bryan said.
Music classes will study jazz and other popular music of the 1920s, and art students will view and discuss paintings of the Harlem Renaissance, O’Bryan said.
Vocabulary and slang of the time, such as "jalopy," "Victrola," and "gams" (a term for legs) will also be explained in language arts classes, Hilfman said. A special dictionary of those terms will be featured in the play’s program for those audience members who were not "around" during the decade, she said.
Outside of the auditorium, several bulletin boards designed by O’Bryan show news clippings and photographs depicting historical and cultural events such as the criminal trial of anarchist murderers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and Charles Lindbergh’s flight on The Spirit of St. Louis between New York and Paris in 1927.
Fads such as dance marathons and flagpole sitting are detailed by O’Bryan’s display in a section titled, "What Were They Thinking?"
Other news stories highlighted on the bulletin boards include the end of the Boston Red Sox’s winning dynasty as they sent Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920.
The parents of students involved in cast and crew have been particularly helpful in pulling the show together, Hilfman said.
The father of one cast member even managed to get a local lumber store to donate lumber for the play’s sets, she said.
"Parents are the guardian angels that drop in," Hilfman said.
Art teacher Cheryl Menken and Debbie Thime, a local resident who researched and assembled the period costumes, also assisted in pulling the show together, Hilfman said.
"Good News" will begin at 7 p.m. each night at the school on West Greystone Road.