History lives through the music of an era and its lessons often resonate with us across our own times.
Bandstand, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in an open run, takes us back to the swing era just after WWII. America is on a road to recovery, as veterans are returning from overseas battles.
Big-band music, written by Richard Oberacker (music, book and lyrics) and Robert Taylor (book and lyrics), is a welcome and original addition to the big Broadway musical mix. Bandstand, with orchestrations by Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, is indeed, as it claims, The New American Musical. Jazz is the all-American musical idiom, after all, and this blockbuster is jazzy.
The music devised to cheer up a post war world offers a big backdrop for a big-hearted theatrical feast.
On its face, the story has an old-fashioned movie plot feel, but Bandstand goes much deeper. Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) comes back from fighting overseas to create a band with his fellow vets. He teams his band mates with a lovely war widow, Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) and enters them in a national contest. He intends to win. After this, lots happens to change it from the ordinary. Suffice it to say, you will enjoy the twists, which we won’t reveal.
The band Donny puts together include the level-headed Jimmy Campbell (James Nathan Hopkins) and the charismatically off-the-rails Davy Zlatic (Brandon J. Ellis). Each man leads him to another one who served. Nick Radel (Alex Bender) is an ambitious horn player. The shell-shocked Wayne Wright (Geoff Packard) attempts to reset the world by tidying everything he touches. Johnny Simpson (Joe Carroll) still keeps time with his drums, but is locked in to a moment in time.
Donny’s–check that– their fallen comrades people their on-stage memories and act as inspiration for the band.
Each of these talented actors plays his instrument in the on-stage band, backed by a full-pit orchestra under Fred Lessen’s baton.
The songs that Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker have created for the show move the story along, and tell it in so many special moments. Julia’s mother, Mrs. June Adams (the wonderful Beth Leavel) has one great one, when she encourages her daughter with a particularly apt tune, “Everything Happens” in the second act.
Bandstand is directed and choreographed by Tony-winner (for choreography for Hamilton) Andy Blankenbuehler. Both his direction here and his choreography for the large ensemble are memorable. The Jacobs theater is chock-full with talent, and sound, and dancing. In fact, this joint is jumping. Watch the jitterbug explode on stage.
The costumes by Paloma Young are terrific; the sets by David Korins magically represent the places in the story.
In emotional and stirring roles, Osnes and Cott are overwhelming and genuine, as are the rest of the cast. Of course, they also shine as musicians and singers. Bandstand is a thrill and a gas.
For more information about and tickets for Bandstand, The New American Musical please visit http://bandstandbroadway.com/