Brock’s Centre for the Arts scored a direct hit by presenting “The Big Band Broadcast starring Holly Larocque and the Mark Ferguson Orchestra” for two performances on Friday (the matinée was added as the evening show quickly sold out).
Over two hours of music from the ‘40s (and a few updated derivatives thereof, notably “Singin’ With the Big Bands,” had the appreciative audience entranced from the first note of this nostalgic survey of the big band era.
Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey/ to renew old memories.
Stage and concert veteran Holly Larocque sang, danced and convincingly stylized her way through two sets of unforgettable melodies from the sublime (“And the Angels Sing”) to the ridiculous (a quartet of radio commercials—assisted by "The Fergusongs" vocal trio—extolling the virtues of grapefruit, gum and cereal), which added extra spice to the feint of being an actual radio broadcast (although as a sometime listener to CKTB—local call letters du jour—the station was given far more artistic credit than its current “all talk” format deserves. Still, perhaps a seed has been planted ….).
Comes a headache you can lose it in a day
Comes a toothache see the dentist right away
Comes love nothing can be done!
Trombonist/pianist/arranger Mark Ferguson provided solid accompaniments (with some sly modulations tastefully slipped in) and impressive solos throughout. Notably “Getting Sentimental Over You,” where a trombone choir was a stroke of brilliance and camaraderie. Ferguson has also surrounded himself with a first-rate band including Don Patterson’s lead trumpet that soared and sizzled at will whether as a “Bugle Boy” or “In the Mood;” Mike Fahie’s trombone interventions, which demonstrated an exceptional talent on the rise, and tenor sax-extraordinaire Rob Frayne whose solos ranged from irreverent to echoes of the master, Stan Getz, in the ballads.
The whole show was glued together by announcer Paul Baker’s spot-on delivery of Larocque’s smart script, resulting in a fast-moving production that never sunk into tedious or tasteless banter (regular readers of these pages will know of a covey of others who have been brought to task for their wandering, unscripted dissertations). Merci mille fois!
Of course, nothing’s perfect. I tried two different locations in the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, before confirming that the sound balance was seriously askew—over-favouring the band, swamping too much of Larocque’s lyrics and Ferguson’s ivories touch.
The band’s choreography was mostly fun, but sometimes dangerously contrived and I feared that—with various reeds or mouthpieces flying about—the lyrics might need an adjustment to call to “Pennsylvania 911.” Finally, the fedoras looked better than they "wa-waed."
Quibbles aside, this show is one of those rare events where it’s a pleasure to be in the room with so many skilled artists thrilling a capacity house and rekindling memories from times gone by.
Thanks for the memory, of rainy afternoons, swingy Harlem tunes, motor trips and burning lips and burning toast and prunes. How lovely it was.
Bob Hope couldn't have said it better. JWR