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Bandstand

An adult take on the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland MGM let’s-put-on-a-show films with enough emotional heft to keep it real.

Joe Carroll, Corey Cott, Laura Osnes, Brandon J. Ellis, Geoff Packard, James Nathan Hopkins and Alex Bender in a scene from “Bandstand” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The new musical, Bandstand, written by Richard Oberacker (music, lyrics and book) and Rob Taylor (lyrics and book), is a dark take on the old MGM Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland films.  Let’s put together a band—we’ve got the songs, the musicians and the girl singer!

Bandstand is an adult version of those madcap, totally impossible films that entertained America during the Depression and the early 1940’s.  Mostly taking place just after World War II, the show actually begins with a quick scene in which the lead character Donny Novitski (Corey Cott displaying many more colors and greater depth than ever before) experiences a catastrophic loss on the battlefield, which affects him deeply upon his return to Cleveland.

Donny, a musician/composer, finds no work when he returns.  After an angry scene in which he is summarily refused employment, his emotions get the better of him. He regroups and gathers a small band to play his music and enter a contest that will put them on the map. The band consists of former servicemen, all of whom suffer from some form of PTSD, making for an eccentric bunch of characters.

All the actors in the band play their instruments with panache and perfect period style, including Cott whose piano doodling is terrific.  James Nathan Hopkins plays the cute, upbeat saxophonist, Jimmy Campbell; Brandon J. Ellis, the joking teddy bear of a guy, Davy Zlatic, the bassist; Alex Bender, the intensely dramatic trumpeter, Wayne Wright; Geoff Packard, the germ phobic trombonist, Wayne Wright; and Joe Carroll as Johnny Simpson, the percussionist who survived a scary accident during the War.

Laura Osnes and Beth Leavel in a scene from “Bandstand” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Adding to the robust on stage band, the effervescent pit band, playing Greg Anthony Rassen’s arrangements, is conducted with zest by Fred Lassen.

Of course they need a female singer.  Can anyone think of a better choice than Laura Osnes?  She plays Julia Trojan, the wife of Donny’s friend, Michael, killed in the battle scene that opens Bandstand.  Donny promised to contact her.  One thing leads to another and she is pulled into the irresistible gravity of the new band, finding that singing provides the zing her life as a young widow lacked.

This band of the wounded becomes a cohesive, brilliant unit which has to fight for recognition, particularly as they work on winning the competition and getting to New York City and glory.  How they work together, even with the occasional arguments and offended egos, and how their community helps them is the gist of Bandstand.

Tony Award winner Beth Leavel makes the most of the smallish part of Julia’s level-headed mom, June Adams.  Her presence brings the show up a couple of notches.

The entire cast pitches in with energy and warmth, singing with style and dancing the complex, athletic steps as if their lives depended on it.

Corey Cott and Laura Osnes (center) with the company of “Bandstand” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

The songs are good, not great.  Some serve to delve into character (Donny’s “Donny Novitski,” Julia’s “Who I Was”) and some move the plot along (Julia and Donny’s “First Steps, First,” the Band members’ “I Know a Guy” and “A Band in New York City”) and, course, there are love songs (Julia and Donny’s “This is Life” and “Welcome Home”).  The songwriters have a feel for the period but their numbers are pale compared to the colorful popular tunes of that era.  I hate to say it, but, maybe, one or two period songs might have beefed up the score.  (But, as I said, I hated to say it.)

David Korins’ scenery smoothly flows from battlefield to bar to the Adams/Trojan apartment and, finally, to a brilliantly rendered Rainbow Room.  The carefully built pieces come apart and go back together at breakneck speed.  Paloma Young’s costumes are period perfect, helped by the wigs and makeup designs of J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova.  Add in Jeff Croiter’s lighting and this first rate creative team is complete.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights) directs with great attention to detail and choreographs a slam bang suite of dances that more than captures this period of the lindy hop, bebop and jitterbug.

Although this is definitely a feel good, adult fairytale, there is enough emotional heft and attention to period detail to make it believable and pleasantly entertaining.

Bandstand (through September 17, 2017)

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com

For more information, visit http://www.BandstandBroadway.com

Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (229 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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