Mills Lawn kids tip hats to 1940s
- Published: December 13, 2012
The 1940s seem like a strange and distant time to the students at Mills Lawn Elementary School. Back then, the world had trains that could go on roads, girls and boys wore vastly different clothes and fast food restaurants didn’t exist, according to one student’s report on the decade.
Yet today’s youth still play some of the same board games from the 1940s, and the radio, though now supplemented by television and computers, is still popular among kids, students said.
“I wouldn’t mind living in the 40s except it would suck if you got sick,” said sixth-grader Dakota Joy in a recent interview. “It was kind of a tough time, but not that bad because they were coming out of the Depression.”
Added classmate David Lewis, it was a “corny” time but filled with some real struggles — fears of communist plots, a global war and the necessity to grow your own food. Yet the radio of the 1940s in many ways trumps today’s broadcasts, he said.
“Instead of people randomly singing into voice synthesizers, it was more jokes,” Lewis said. “They were more funny back then. Now they’re serious.”
The silly laughs and sensational songs heard on 1940s radio will be re-performed live in the Mills Lawn biennial all-school musical, The Albert Brown Show, featuring some of the era’s comedy routines, music and dance numbers and celebrity knockoffs. Abbott and “That Fellow” stage the famous “Who’s On First” routine, Lena Trumpet (not Lena Horne) sings the 1944 hit “Sentimental Journey,” the Upstart Sisters perform just like the Andrews Sisters, and there’s even an appearance from the Marks Brothers — Grumpo, Ducko and Piano.
Mills Lawns’ Albert Brown Show opens Friday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m. and plays again on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center on the Central State University campus. Tickets cost $3 and may be purchased next week at Mills Lawn between 8–8:30 a.m. or 2:30–3 p.m. The school recommends buying tickets the day of the show. Each family can only purchase four tickets per performance.
Show producer and Mills Lawn music teacher Jo Frannye Reichert adapted the play from a 15-minute piece she performed 28 years ago with the Springfield Arts Council. Reichert threw in new characters to lengthen the show to more than an hour and expand it for a cast of 143 (more than 300 when including the chorus). And she added a “tip of the hat” to icons of the time, she said. For example, Rosie and the Riveters stop by from the airplane factory and GIs sing about what it’s like to be a soldier.
Though some of the showbiz names have been changed (not due to copyright issues but for fun, Reichert said), much of the show is historically accurate. There’s a scene in the famous Hollywood Canteen, a club where servicemen swing danced to big bands before being shipped out, and the “GI Jive” will be performed from sheet music of the era found in an old piano bench.
According to Reichert, students were fascinated by the radio shows of the 1940s, which they listened to during music class.
“When you explain to [students] that [radio] was the technology, what brought the world to [people in the 1940s] and connected the world in ways they hadn’t been connected, [students] understand that,” Reichert said.
Students also studied the history of the era in their classes during a school-wide, three-week immersion unit on the 1940s. The school’s morning announcements featured news items from the 1940s, older students delved into the history of World War II, and younger students studied the recycling efforts of the 1940s and interviewed family members and local elders who lived at the time.
“We are losing this generation that were children and adults in the 1940s, so it’s time for [students] to know and get a chance to talk to them,” Reichert said.
The all-school musical, performed every two years, is an opportunity to “foster a lot of school community” according to Reichert, and additionally a way to further the “project-based learning” that the Yellow Springs School District is avidly implementing this year, according to Mills Lawn principal Matt Housh.
“What we’re trying to do is wrap [the play] into project-based learning so it’s not just an added-on piece, it’s part of our learning,” Housh said in an interview at the beginning of the school year.
Reflecting on life in the 1940s, sixth-grader Hailey Qualls, who plays Lena Trumpet, lamented the fashion of the time, since women had to wear dresses to school, but she noted that there was much less violent crime back then, and “there were not as many shootings — like school shootings.”
Miriam Raissouni, who conducts the Kiddie College of Knowledge in “Mairzy Doats,” found it strange how women straightened their hair on ironing boards, but empowering that women worked men’s jobs and played baseball while the men were away at war.
As for the radio, students said in the 1940s some comedy shows may have deserved a “lower than G” rating, but were still truly funny. Today explicit lyrics abound and celebrity gossip dominates. Another change, to Lewis, who plays Abbott, and to Joy, who plays That Fellow, is that 1940s children would clean their rooms immediately without hesitation when their parents told them too.
“Parents were more strict,” Lewis said.
“ — Or kids were more obedient,” suggested Joy.
For more information on the show, contact Nan Meekin at [email protected] or 767-7217.