Entertainment » Theatre

Bandstand

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday May 8, 2017
Laura Osnes and Corey Cott
Laura Osnes and Corey Cott  

In my "Amelie" review, I railed against the screen-to-stage musical epidemic that's insidiously infected Broadway in the last few decades and yielded a legion of mediocre shows with creatives (and their producers) refusing to reconceive projects for the new medium. Why not produce more original work, I keep arguing?

Be careful what you wish for...? But don't be quick to judge. What may initially seem like a cliché-laden genre mish-mash can, very well, completely surprise you midstream and totally win you over in the end.

The brand new musical, "Bandstand" (terrible title), is a clever, tricky, subversive and deceptive piece that is set on imploding stock characters and done-to-death plots, using and then inverting clichés by taking Hollywood Golden Age situations and shattering them, while trying to truly explore the types of characters that are often relegated to one-dimensional hero-types.

And, most audaciously, "Bandstand" has some uncomfortable things to say about the way the United States has always treated their war veterans, as well as the bullshit, lies Americans are constantly being fed (beware the fine print) by the media, television, advertising firms, and the government. Honestly, this musical could not be timelier with the seriously nefarious GOP running roughshod right over our rights.

It saddened me that this show was only honored with two Tony nominations (Best Choreography and Orchestrations). It deserved more. Much more. I only hope it can find an audience. It truly deserves one.

A certain misguided critic (not the top dog but a second string) of a certain famous newspaper (yes, that one) labeled the show "indecisive." Clearly, that person has no concept of subtext and never bothered to look beyond the surface.

The plot dives into the messy lives of a gaggle of WW2 veterans who are trying desperately to move on with their lives. Our hero is Donny Novitski (played by understudy Jonathan Shew at the performance I attended), a frustrated singer/songwriter/pianist trying to book gigs to survive and getting doors slammed in his face now that he's no longer 18!

When Donny gets wind of a national radio contest looking for a great song from America's next big swing band, he decides to take action. The "Tribute to the Troops" seeks submissions from all 48 states with the winner being featured on TV.

Donny begins to put together his band from fellow soldiers who fought overseas. Some are brimming with jealousy, bitterness and anger. Some are simply trying to escape the demons. All are haunted by their tours.

A final and surprising addition to the band is Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes), the widow of Donny's bestie who died under mysterious circumstances (but not mysterious to Donny). Deliberately conveniently, Julia is an amazing singer as well as a closet lyricist/poet.

Will their hard work pay off? Or do the TV execs have it all rigged before they even get there? Can they triumph, anyway?

Andy Blankenbuehler (Tony winner for choreographing "Hamilton") boldly guides this show along the tightrope of entertainment and social relevance, deviously delivering much more of the latter by using what's expected from the former.

Rob Taylor's book is a marvelous hat-trick of giving people what they want while mercilessly placing a mirror up to those same people and forcing them to take a look at reality.

The cast is uniformly kick-ass with each band member playing his own instruments (and killing it). Joe Carroll and Brandon J. Ellis, in particular, etch complex war-ravaged portraits while the true musical theater treasure Beth Leavel steals all of her too-few scenes as Julia's wacky mom. Her role borders on the anachronistic, and that adds to the smarts of this show. (Her one awesome number feels like an ode to Sondheim).

Donny is the show's anchor, and Shew certainly did a valiant job. I'm wondering if Corey Cott might have a little more of the charisma the role demands.

Osnes injects joy into the show but also gives it its gravitas and defiance. Julia's journey, in particular, is compelling to watch. And Osnes's vocal abilities are off the charts good.

"Bandstand" has the expectedly swell dance numbers, some truly good songs (music by Richard Oberacker and lyrics by Oberacker and Taylor) and one show-stopper, "Welcome Home" that also messes with the old fashioned vs. the real. (I particularly loved "This is Life" which stomps on the traditional love story tropes).

Besides the scathing commentary on the treatment of returning vets, "Bandstand" examines the notion that swing music became quickly at odds with the realities of life but was used as a means of forcing America to try and forget their dire straights.

The show does the unthinkable. It has you tapping your feet and dancing in your seat just as it sucker punches you into opening your eyes to some truly horrific truths about our culture, our country and our entire way of life. That's pretty powerful stuff.

"Bandstand" enjoys an open-ended run at the Bernie B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. For tickets or information, call 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 or visit www.bandstandbroadway.com

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for Edge. His film column can be read at newyorkcool.com. Frank is also a proud Dramatists Guild member having written a slew of plays including "Consent," which confronts bullying and homophobia and was a 2012 semifinalist for the 2012 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, "Vatican Falls," a play set against the backdrop of the Catholic sex abuse scandal which received Special Mention at the 2013 O'Neill (and will be produced next season) and his latest, "Orville Station." Ten of his plays have been produced (seven in NYC). Frank is the recipient of a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts for his play, CONSENT.


Tony-Nominated Shows

This story is part of our special report titled "Tony-Nominated Shows." Want to read more? Here's the full list.


Comments

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook