NEW YORK, NY – A new and rather special musical, “Bandstand,” just opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on 44th Street in Manhattan. It’s an uplifting work about soldiers returning home after World War II. It’s a show that is filled with music and dance but never depreciates the challenges facing veterans returning from war. Indeed, it’s just the opposite. This is a work that honors all veterans, and its d it balances traditional music theater with a topic rarely addressed by and it’s accomplished with pandering.
The work should have special interest to area audiences because one of the creators, Rob Taylor, is the co-lyricist and co-book writer. Taylor is a Niskayuna High School and Union College graduate, who was a member of the Albany Symphony as a teenager. By the time he was in his mid-thirties he was playing violin for St. Cecilia’s Chamber Orchestra in Troy, an organization he founded. He was involved in local theater and for the past couple of decades he has been a musician for several Broadway shows, most notably as concert master for “The Lion King.”
Working with collaborator Richard Oberacker this is the team’s fifth musical and the first to open on Broadway.
“Bandstand” is an impressive work as it takes what might sound like a cliché and turns it into a meaningful work that is fun without being frothy, and serious without being somber. Somehow the story transcends what could be trite and formulated.
“Bandstand” takes a familiar template and enriches it with characters who are fragile, honest and real without being manipulative.
It’s the end of World War II and the returning GI’s come home to a world that has changed almost as much as did they. There are few opportunities for musicians in Cleveland. When a popular aspirin manufacturer sponsors a national search for a swing band, six vets join together and form a band. Their hook is they will be the only group in which each member has been in combat. Their singer is the widow of a fallen comrade.
Laura Osnes as Julia plays the widow who is as damaged by the war as are the returning soldiers. She creates an ingratiating woman who is reluctant to rejoin the living or the loving. She has several lovely numbers that are beautifully painful. I challenge anyone not to tear up during “Welcome Home.”
It’s just as difficult not to smile or to dance in the aisle to “Right This Way” which closes the first act or “Nobody” which opens the second. “Bandstand” does not lack joyful or comedic moments.
Corey Cott plays the driven Danny Novitski. He’s the leader of the group who needs success, but will only do things on his own terms. The charming actor has a couple of lovely solos, and “This is Life,” his duet with Osnes, is haunting. They are a handsome couple who connect in an almost magical way.
This is a fragile, wounded group of men who find redemption through the love and trust of their comrades. The entire cast is terrific as each band member is able to etch a character who rises above stereotype. It’s a bonus that each performer plays their own instrument, though the music is given heft by a large unseen orchestra in the rear.
Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler keeps the dances vibrant and exciting. More importantly, he tells an emotionally complex story with clarity.
“Bandstand” is a delight that is compassionate, entertaining and truthful. Try to see it.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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