I got a thing for swing.
It rankles my ankles and frees my knees.
I don’t waste time, a show with the title “Bandstand” – -which demands capital letters and shouts for an exclamation point — put me seventh row center the first night of previews. “Bandstand” did not disappoint, indeed I was overwhelmed – this show had me moving from my nose to my toes….and then some.
Such a marvelous pastiche of 1940s music –swing, jazz, brass, blues and ballads – especially nice that melody matters again and precise rhythm is back in a musical score. Then add insanely exciting choreography and direction by Andy Blankenbuehler (the “Hamilton” choreographer, and the current “wunderkid” of Broadway) and some touching, energetic performances by the entire company, not to mention the lustrous, joyful dancers who should all share top billing. Season the show with the smart, heady Beth Leavel, and showcase the uber talented leads, Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, and you have a glorious night of musical theater. This is MY idea of a true Broadway musical. “Bandstand” will not alter the course of theater history, but I relish a relevant story presented by top Broadway musical talent in which every facet of iconic musical theater blends and shines. This is a splashy show – and for all the right reasons.
Set in 1945, World War II is over, American men are coming home. But to what? We all tend to idealize the WWII GI with good reason. However we all now know only too well that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder i.e. PTSD, friendly fire, and veteran’s unemployment were as real back then as they are now – but kept on the back burner. Granted, these dark, important issues are not totally solved in the context of this show, but the fact that these shadows play a major role in the story, while surrounded by primarily up tempo music, gives this musical a well-deserved importance, and turns the plot in a direction you did not quite see coming.
The amazing Corey Cott plays “Donny Novitski, a returning solider and fine musician prior to his wartime service. Like so many returning veterans, he has much to confront in a post war world, and he hopes to find his way as well as employment thru his musical talents. “Donny” is one mean piano player and I read that Corey actually learned piano to play this part. I love when that happens! Totally admire that kind of dedication.
Now, a popular radio show is sponsoring a major contest – they are looking for an original patriotic song – with a huge payoff. And so the plot unfolds. Donny assembles a group of fellow veterans – each as broke as Donny, and unfortunately scarred from the war in his own way – and a band is formed. ALL the performers in this band actually play their own instruments on stage – primarily brass – where do they get their wind as they also perform in the show as vocalists?! I stand with this band of fine musicians.
Enter “Julia Trojan” played by the multi-faceted Laura Osnes – a beauty with a voice to match. She is the young widow of a war buddy of Donny’s, and WOW can she ever sing. AND compose. Ok, now you THINK you know where the story is going…well…think again! There are some thoughtful revelations here and all I will say is that I wish clever, compassionate Beth Leavel (playing June Adams, Julia’s Mom) was MY mother.
Let me add that I did not have to sell my car for seats to this show, so many Broadway musicals with big stars (and not always big talent) have become insanely expensive due to the “star gazing” spotlight dominating theater these days. Even last row balcony seats have become cost prohibitive for these mega musicals. So I sincerely thank those in the know at “Bandstand” for keeping entertaining musical theater affordable, especially a show with something to say – as well as placing this show in a sensibly sized theater. I left feeling 20 years younger, and was so jazzed by that big band sound and muscular dancing that I had to work off my energy. So I walked home – some 36 blocks. Only in New York!
A show such as “Bandstand” not only earns its place on an illustrious Broadway stage, but helps DEFINE the phrase “The Great White Way.”
What shows have you seen lately? Let’s chat in the comments below!
By: Joanne Theodorou