By Sandi Durell
This latest edition to Broadway musicals has a strong message along with a remarkably talented cast. With original big band style music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Rob Taylor and Oberacker, this throwback to the 40s and the end of WWII, portrays what happens to our veterans when they return from war, traumatized yet eager to go on with lives that have been forever damaged and disrupted.
If you love the era of swing music, dance and saddle shoes, you’re a good match for Bandstand featuring Laura Osnes (Cinderella) and Corey Cott (Gigi) along with Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone).
What makes this musical notable is the fact that all the main characters are also musicians, including Corey Cott who learned to play piano for the role of Donny, a soldier returning to find that jobs are scarce for returning vets even though he was tops playing at some of the clubs since the age of 17. It’s the school of hard knocks and doesn’t fulfill his dream when everyone wants things “Just Like It Was Before.”
Donny, however, is a go-getter, not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer as he seeks out the best of the best musicians, also vets, to put a band together in the clever go-round “I Know a Guy” until all the spots are filled with an assemblage of guys from over there, several suffering from PTSD – Nick (Alex Bender – trumpet) the attorney; Johnny who suffers from injuries that affect his mind (Joe Carroll – drums ); Davy who liberated Dachau and is now a perpetual boozer (Brandon J. Ellis – bass); Jimmy (James Nathan Hopkins – sax); Wayne, married with a kid and a cleanliness phobia (Geoff Packard – trombone) – – their purpose is to enter a statewide competition in Cleveland, sponsored by NBC for the best original song honoring the troops, win and go straight to New York City and the top, where they’ll be included in an MGM film. It’s a daunting task as each of these men carry a heavy weight of emotional damage but need the release and outlet that only the music can provide as we witness their individual struggles.
They soon find out it’s not quite that simple or straight-forward. No surprise! Corporate America lies to achieve their own bottom line as they use everyone, even these vets, to meet an end. It’s in the final round that Donny and the band outwit the network in a surprise twist.
Love interest Julia, a widow (lovely lilting soprano Laura Osnes), is suffering the loss of her husband Michael killed in the war – Donny, the last to see him alive. When Donny finally decides to visit her, he finds out she also sings and writes poetry, to which he eventually writes some tunes, and would be the perfect match for him and the band. With Donny’s pushy nature and songwriting skills and his new girl singer, his dream is becoming more of a reality.
The deeper and darker side of this story never lets up But it is eased by the crackerjack perpetual whirling, twirling and tapping group of ace dancers to hi-energy new swing sounds that fit smoothly as the band gains momentum in the clubs and onto the competition.
Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) is at the helm with his impressive creative skill. David Korins designed the era specific set that is lit by Jeff Croiter, and the 40s style garb is captured by Paloma Young.
Julia’s Mom, Mrs. Adams, is played by the always likeable and talented Beth Leavel who gives the right advice at the right time “Everything Happens.” Too bad, there isn’t more of her in this production.
Corey Cott has emerged as a new leading man with his strong and powerful, yet edgy, charisma and fantastic vocals, aided by his lively dancing abilities; his determination to do the right thing is worn like a medal of honor in the closing of the first act’s “Right This Way.” And you’re not alone if you’re one of the teary-eyed when Laura Osnes sings the emotional “Welcome Home” at the end of Act II.
This new musical heightens your thoughts and emotions about topics that haunt our daily lives but tinged with a mixture of a lot of feel-good.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
Bandstand, Bernard K. Jacobs Theatre, West 45 Street NYC – Run Time 2 hrs, 30 min (intermission)