By Debbie Gardner
“I think what brings me back every year is that I enjoy being the emcee – It’s kind of a fun gig; there’s great energy that happens every year with the students, and obviously, Mark has become a friend,” 22 News Storm Team meteorologist Brian Lapis told Prime as he was preparing for his 13th appearance as emcee Fred Kelley for Mount Holyoke College’s annual “Big Broadcast” – a recreation of a live 1940s radio show.
This year’s rendition of the popular performance is slated to take place in Chapin Auditorium on the Mount Holyoke Campus at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on March 7, and Lapis said he’s been gearing up for his role –
which now includes a song – with a weekly music rehearsals with Mount Holyoke’s Jazz Ensembles Director Mark Gionfriddo since early February.
In past years, Lapis said his preparation for the show would usually consist of reading through his script with the cast at ”two or three” rehearsals leading up to The Big Broadcast.
“Now they have Fred Kelley singing, so I do at least one musical number per show. It’s a stretch for Brian Lapis but I think Fred Kelley can pull it off,” Lapis shared, readily admitting that singing in The Big Broadcast is “the only time I flex that [creative] muscle every year.”
A timely opportunity
Lapis said he was originally tapped for the recurring role of the show’s on-air emcee when a colleague at 22News, Dan Ellias, decided to step back from his gig as announcer Bob Graham after just two years with the show.
“I coincidentally mentioned I was interested [in The Big Broadcast] and had some friends on the faculty,” Lapis said. “[They] connected me with Mark Gionfriddo and the rest is history.”
He said he saw the opportunity to join The Big Broadcast as a great way for him to “exercise my creative muscle” in a new venue.
“I have a background in radio, I’m a student of broadcast and a fan of all forms of broadcasting and obviously a fan of this era of broadcasting,” Lapis said. ‘I did some stage work in high school and of course, being on TV I’m doing stage work every day to an extent” while covering the weather
Becoming ‘Fred Kelley’
“When I arrived, Mark said, ‘You are going to be Fred Kelley;’ I said ‘Ok” – [the name] was easy to pronounce,’” Lapis said, adding he feels his emcee is a little different than the one Ellis portrayed during his tenure.
“Fred is kind-of a goofy guy,” Lapis said. “He loves being an announcer and he is very chummy with Matt Morgan, the role played by [Big Broadcast creator] Mark Gionfriddo. Fred is the kind of guy who loves to laugh at his own jokes – corny ones – and I think he really enjoys schmoozing with the performers of the day.
“And, he really enjoys the music,” Lapis added about his Big Broadcast character. “The music of that era is so big and full and it’s really a thing to hear it live.”
In praise of his ‘producers’
Lapis said he credits the snappy dialogue Fred Kelley gets to deliver – and the banter between his character and the band – with the great research and writing done by the team of students who put together The Big Broadcast script every year.
“When we do the publicity for this show every year, I don't think the students get enough credit,” Lapis said. “There’s a small group of students that spend half of January writing the dialog and they have to research the commercials. They really immerse themselves in the culture and music of the time” to pull the show together.
Creating a persona
Though he usually plays Fred Kelley pretty much the same for every Big Broadcast, Lapis shared that he also tries to come up with a few new stage bits for each year’s show.
“For the most part I perform what the students write for me, but there may be some flourishes….It might be that I come out and try to dance with one of the performers while they are singing, or do something goofy with the band, but it’s all about the show. I try to add some Fred Kelley personality as much as possible” within the script, Lapis said.
“It’s a good time, and one of my favorite gigs of the year,” he added. “I kind of want to think if Brian Lapis was alive in 1942, he would want to be Fred Kelley. There is a great match up of kindred spirits.”