Director and choreographer Andy Blankenbauehler won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award and the Chita Rivera Award for his choreography for Bandstand, and it’s the thing that sweeps and elevates you away with this musical.
Set in the post-war period after World War 2, it’s about returned vets trying to re-establish their lives as civilians.
Blankenbauehler’s production is continually inventive, dance-heavy, and has the look and feel of authenticity with victory roll hairstyles etc, but it’s all a bit light-weight. With a 40s pastiche score, and swing and jitterbug dance moves, it wants to embrace the carefree ambience of Hollywood wartime musicals but at the same time explore the post-traumatic stress of the survivors. The script doesn’t quite stack up to the ambitious concept.
Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) is a young returned vet, a pianist, who can’t find a place for himself in post-war Cleveland - that is until he hears about a National Radio Swing Band Competition in Tribute to the Troops in New York. He decides to form a band composed entirely of fellow vets and enter the competition. How they raise the finance at gigs is basically the show.
Donny enlists the aid of Julia (Laura Osnes), the wife of his best buddy who was killed alongside him in the Pacific. Conveniently she’s a singer and a very good one at that.
Like recent productions of Company and Sweeney Todd, the actors all play their instruments live and what a sound they make. With echoes of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw frequently in the air, the mood is big-band and nostalgic. Beth Leavel scores multiple laughs as Julia’s mother, a dry and laconic mid-westerner. The songs have a good period sound (the orchestrators won an award for their work) but very few of them register except “I Know A Guy”, which is sung by Cott and used to recruit the band members.
Whilst it doesn’t have the depth the writers were obviously seeking, it’s well worth a watch, if only for Blankenbuehler’s contribution.
Photographer: Jeremy Daniel
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