It would have been easy to simply plug in 1940s pop standards. But instead Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor created a swinging original score that not only captures the period style but also digs deep into the characters. The music is so tightly integrated into the script that "Bandstand" becomes unusually powerful musical theater. Its reinterpretation of the traditional 11 o'clock number is both smart and electrifying. Andy Blankenbuehler, who rose to prominence as the choreographer of "In the Heights" and then "Hamilton," does a stunning job as both director and choreographer.
BANDSTAND Broadway Reviews
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Bandstand is being promoted as "a swing musical," and that's what it joyfully is, as director-choreographer Andy (Hamilton) Blankenbuehler deploys a cast headed by the sparkling and tough Laura Osnes and Corey Cott and boasting some of the most spectacular dancers on Broadway this minute. The brilliant Blankenbuehler keeps his stageful of remarkable performers moving just about constantly in ways that make spectators watch what each of them is doing individually and what all of them are doing as a lithe, athletic team. For that, abundant bravos.
The resonant original musical Bandstand dances a delicate line between nostalgia and disillusion. What it seems to promise, and often delivers, is Broadway escapism: a tale of soldiers returning from World War II into a lively world of big-band music, boogie-woogie dancing and a booming American economy. Donny (the very engaging Corey Cott) assembles a music combo composed entirely of fellow veterans, hoping to win a competition in New York and earn a shot at Hollywood. Sounds like a happy old movie, right? But these soldiers, we soon learn, have trouble getting into the swing of things. Try though they may-through work, repression, copious drinking-they can't shake off the horror of war.
The final musical of the 2016-2017 Broadway season, Bandstand opened tonight at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre with a swinging look back at 1946. It's about the post-WWII era and the conflicted welcome rolled out for returning veterans (think William Wyler's The Best Years of Their Lives) and the music that swept across the U.S. during that period. Bandstand, staged with breathtaking originality by director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton), swings in a different way, as well: between the soft-focus lens of nostalgia and the jarring clarity that a contemporary view demands.
Cott, who segued from college to Broadway when he took over the lead in "Newsies" a few years ago, learned to play piano for this role. His character is both persuasive, in getting other soldiers to join him, and patient -- there isn't an obvious path to the romance with Julia that we imagine might be coming. Osnes, who starred in "Cinderella," brings considerable stage presence to her role as young Gold Star widow Julia, who will become the band's lead singer and writer. Two powerful solos -- the other is "Love Will Come and Find Me Again," which the band uses to audition for NBC -- showcase her crystalline voice. Beth Leavel ("The Drowsy Chaperone") is Julia's mother, who has some great comic moments merely serving up deviled eggs to Don; she's also on hand to reinforce to Julia another of the show's themes: Sometimes, "s-it happens," as she puts it. I wish Blankenbuehler had left a beat for the audience to applaud after her one solo, in the second act.
Songs by Oberacker and Taylor are workmanlike and pleasant, but tend to be monochromatic. Songs that the group sings and ones that drive the plot are pretty indistinguishable, so musically it's a blur. The physical production can be one as well. Andy Blankenbuehler, the Tony-winning "Hamilton" choreographer, handles dances and direction. There's stylized movement, ghosts of fallen military men following the vets and lots of athletic hoofing. The production is vigorous to the point of sometimes being distracting. Blankenbuehler's large cast steps up. Cott is appealing and gives his all. Osnes sings like a dream - even when the material isn't one. Tony winner Beth Leavel takes on the tiny role of Julia's mom, June, who dispenses quips and advice. "Listen," June sings, "what matters when things happen is what happens after." That's as deep as "Bandstand" gets.
Wonderful story and performances notwithstanding, much of "Bandstand's" dazzle finds root in Andy Blankenbuehler's direction and choreography. The Tony-winning choreographer of "Hamilton" takes on double duty here, allowing the dancing and progression of the show to work in seamless tandem. Simple changes in David Korins's nimble set and Paloma Young's inventive costumes signal important scene changes, while the company fills the stage with high-voltage dance backed by the live band's energy. The spectacle is busy, yet precise, and a whole lot of fun to watch.
Bandstand, on the other hand, has the courage of its convictions. It is really about what it's really about, which broadly speaking is the damage war does to combatants and the further damage sometimes done by peace. Yes, it's the first PTSD musical. I'm not saying it's perfectly carried out, or even especially profound, but as directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, who created the musical staging for Hamilton, it remains almost compulsively faithful to its vision and never asks you to choose between what it's showing you and what you know to be true. Unlike too many musicals, it matches itself.
"Bandstand," an openhearted, indecisive new musical, wants you clapping your hands and clenching your fists, tapping your toes and blinking back tears. It is both a peppy celebration of can-do spirit and a more somber exploration of what American servicemen experienced when they marched home from World War II. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, the Tony Award-winning choreographer of "Hamilton," with book and lyrics by the Broadway newcomers Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor, and a 1940s pastiche score by Mr. Oberacker, "Bandstand" is an undercooked slice of apple pie, served with a dollop of anguish.
There's a different "band of brothers" on stage in "Bandstand," the earnest and often-entertaining musical that, set immediately following WWII, never quite achieves its noble ambitions. Despite the fluid staging and evocative choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler ("Hamilton"), an uneven book, undistinguished dialogue and only-serviceable tunes keep the show from meeting its deeper, darker and good-intentioned aspirations.
The title "Bandstand" is a curveball. So is the subtitle, "The New American Musical." For audiences of a certain age, the name of the season's final musical suggests those dopey and adored teen dance shows that began on '50s TV. To audiences of a different certain age, the '40s look of the publicity photos implies a happy story of the bands that entertained the troops in World War II and moviegoers forevermore. Once inside the theater, however, we discover that we are meant to take the word apart and take it seriously. This is a musical - really, more of a musical drama - about a band of damaged war veterans who take a stand while competing in a national radio contest in 1945. The concept is more ambitious, darker and more sophisticated than its name invites theatergoers to enjoy. It is also more than a little shapeless and overly long.
The boys singing and swinging their hearts out in "Bandstand," an exuberant new musical set in the days just after World War II, are chasing an uncertain future and running from their traumatic pasts. Veterans all, with the battered psyches to prove it, they pound the piano keys, bang away at the drums and blow into their horns in the hopes of burning off the steam building in their emotional pipes. This being a musical, of course, they mostly succeed. "Bandstand," with a frisky boogie-woogie-laced score by Richard Oberacker, and book and lyrics by Rob Taylor and Oberacker, is the last new musical to open in a season almost overstuffed with them. The total comes to a baker's dozen, an encouraging indication that the hunger for fresh voices on Broadway, fed in recent years on the success of groundbreaking shows like "Fun Home" and (duh) "Hamilton," has led to a healthy spirit of risk-taking on the part of producers.
The music itself works, but for a show called "Bandstand," one might expect to keep humming a tune or two hours after leaving the theater. That doesn't happen here. Act one's big showstopper, "Love Will Come and Find Me Again," is as grand as you want it to be - and Osnes completely crushes it - but it also sounds like any other tune from the big band era. The big finale track, "Welcome Home," which is about how each band member handles his PTSD, is intentionally awkward and not exactly the kind of track you'll want to sing in the shower.
From its title and marketing campaign, you'd think the new musical Bandstand would simply be an exuberant paean to the joys of big band swing. But there's a gloominess hanging over this thematically ambitious show, written by Broadway newcomers Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor. And why shouldn't there be, since its troubled main characters include six World War II veterans and the widow of a man killed in combat. Uneasily attempting to be simultaneously a feel-good, swinging musical and a serious depiction of post-traumatic stress, Bandstand is at war with itself.
Bandstand is more than competently pulled off. A couple of the musical numbers really do jump, the sets are lavish, the choreography a feat. Cott is far too sweet-natured to pull off the driving ambition and tormented war weariness that Donny is supposed to embody, but Osnes is a real talent, as is Beth Leavel, who plays her mother, and the rest of the cast more than holds their own.