BWW Review: BANDSTAND at Washington Pavilion
The national tour of Bandstand arrived in Sioux Falls on Monday, November 11 and transported the audience at the Washington Pavilion back to post World War II in 1945. With music by Richard Oberlacker, and the book and score by Robert Taylor and Overlacker, this Tony Award winning Broadway musical combines fabulous swing-era style songs and brilliant original choreography from "Hamilton's"own Andy Blankenbuehler, with a beautifully conceived and inspirational story about a group of soldiers who strive to put their lives back together after the trauma and horrors of war. How fitting to experience this show on Veteran's Day when our country stops to pay respect for the sacrifices of all those who fight for our freedoms every day.
Upon arriving home, Private First Class Donny Novitski, played by Zach Zaromatidis, rediscovers his love of music as a jazz piano player. He hears about a nationwide music competition to discover the "next big thing" and convinces some of his buddies from the war to join him in forming a band that will play the American song book and be a tribute to the troops. Still reeling over the death of his best friend Michael in combat, Donny finally meets and persuades his pals wife, Julia Trojan, played by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith, to be his lead singer. What emerges is a band of not only brothers in arms, but in music as well. Each of the characters not only play their own instruments onstage, they each use the songs and the band to heal the emotional wounds of war and help them move on.
Zaromatidis is riveting in his portrayal of a shell-shocked soldier trying to adapt to life after the war. His angst and heartbreak are tangible yet he still radiates hope and joy as the leader of the band that's destined for something great. He pours his heart and soul into everyone he meets and every note he sings and wears his passion for the music on his sleeve. In his powerful rendition of "Just Like It Was Before" the pain is evident and yet his optimism and wistfulness shine through.
Smith's portrayal of the widowed Julia Trojan is both soulful and mesmerizing as she grieves the loss of her husband and slowly finds her voice and the confidence to survive in a world without him. When she sings "Love Will Come and Find Me Again" as a "gold star woman" you feel her yearning and desire to simply be loved and adored once again. Her powerful performance of "Welcome Home" was the highlight of the second act.
Julia's mother, Mrs. June Adams, played by the talented Roxy York, brought the laughs with her perfectly timed quips and awkward "mom-ism's". To round out this stellar cast, Jonmichael Tarleton as Jimmy Simpson, Louis Jannuzzi III as Wayne Wright, Rob Clove as Jimmy Campbell, Benjamin Powell as Davy Zlatic and Scott Bell as Nick Radel, each bring a unique and profound perspective to their characters as they struggle to adjust to life after battle. Powell provided the much needed comic relief when the mood got somber and Bell's trumpet playing was stellar. The bond between these men is real and the music they make is wildly entertaining, especially when they find their stride with the upbeat "You Deserve It" towards the end of the first act.
Under the thoughtful tour direction of Gina Rattan with additional choreography of Marc Heitzmen, and the simple but effective set design of David Korins, Bandstand is a salute to quiet patriotism and the bitter realities of war, set to a fantastic score of swing music, soulful ballads and dancing that will make you want to get up and find a partner. The energy and pictures created onstage in both the poignant moments and in the raucous, jitterbug dance numbers as the band played their hearts out, took the audience on an unexpected musical journey that was both tender and toe-tapping. Blankenbuehler's choreography is impeccable and worth the price of admission alone.
With one more performance at the Washington Pavilion on Tuesday, November 12, Bandstand is both a soulful and soul searching production that will make you proud to be an American.