By: Isa Goldberg
A new American musical, Bandstand, raises the stakes on a storied cliché. That a bunch of guys start a band, and fulfill their dream of becoming famous seems to be as hackneyed as it can get. But Richard Oberacker and RobTaylor, the creative duo, who are making their Broadway debut here, bring an innocence and vitality to a story every boy and girl imagines, and which the show’s creators run with, to the heights.
Set in 1945, in the aftermath of WWII, our American veterans return home, to desperate lives. While the human drama is contemporary, the music is of the period in which it’s set. And what a pleasure it is to hear Oberacker’s compositions – a mix of blues, jazz and swing, with some brassy sounding horns lifting out of the bass and drums that play the rhythm. Certainly the music is one of the production’s highlights. These songs carry a sensibility and a texture that distinguish themselves from many a new musical.
Another is Andy Blankenbuehler’s gorgeous choreography. The Tony Award winning choreographer of Hamilton creates a kind of jazz ballet that reveals the nightmares of war, as well as daily life – especially the dances at the clubs they perform. Graceful, with reach and snap and speed and masculine strength, it’s dance that tells the story here. With this new work, he demonstrates a diversity of style that is unusual, given that choreographers, the likes of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, are famed for bringing distinct styles of dance to the Broadway musical.
Blankenbuehler also directs the production, bringing together an ensemble of distinct characters, each of whom transforms through the course of the story. As Julia Trojan, the widow of an American soldier, who becomes the lead singer in the band, Laura Osnes does a remarkable acting job. Having played the ingenu in many a musical from Grease to Cinderella, Osnes has always been in fine voice and delightful form. Here, she transcends those generic roles to create a character who thrives through the loss of innocence.
A traumatized army veteran, Donny Novitski (Corey Cott), starts the band, and wins the girl, in a complex twist of fate. Surprisingly strong, musically and emotionally, Cott is really dynamic. The other guys in the band each display the scars of war through their music, which also tells their story, of sacrifice and honor.
Bandstand is a laudable work, steeped in classical American music and dance styles, with a nostalgic sense of story telling that still requires attention.
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
242 West 45 Street
Photos: Jeremy Daniel