Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
The jazzy and atmospheric new musical, “Bandstand,” currently playing on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, is billed as “the new American musical” beneath its title on the Playbill. It is somewhat refreshing to find a musical opening on Broadway that isn’t based on a play or a movie or any other source material. “Bandstand” is written by Richard Oberacker (music) and Rob Taylor and Oberacker (book and lyrics) and, although this show isn’t exactly perfect, it certainly has a great deal to recommend it.
First and foremost is the terrific direction and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler, who has staged “Bandstand” so that it almost dances from scene to scene. This overall choreographic staging is enormously bracing and is matched by the catchy 40’s-style musical numbers that the songwriters have written. Add in superb performances by Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, in the leads, and “Bandstand” is definitely a new work that is worth checking out.
The time period of “Bandstand” is 1945, just after the war, and the show prominently features the veterans that made it back home. Chief amongst the cast is Corey Cott, as Donny, who decides to gather a group of musicians, who all served during the war, to form a band and try to win a contest to perform on television. And while the plot is somewhat on the slim side, it is enough to provide the makings of a genuinely good musical.
Considering that the producers of “Bandstand” could have easily chosen classic big-band tunes from the 1940s for their show, it is enormously gratifying that Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor were hired to write a vivid and inspiring new score. This songwriting team has managed to capture the sound and feel of the time period without their songs seeming like copies of old 1940s tunes.
Notable in the show is the galvanizing Act II opener, “Nobody,” which features the entire cast, and there are also fine songs for the leads, such as “Ain’t We Proud” for Corey Cott, and Laura Osnes, as Julia, the band singer, gets to shine, singing “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” onstage. Still, the most moving and devastating number is saved for the next-to-the-finale spot, called “Welcome Home,” which contains lyrics that characterize the PTSD that the veterans returned home with, coming back from the war.
A song as bold as “Welcome Home” would never have been written in the 1940s, but its inclusion in “Bandstand” gives the show a real shot in the arm and elevates the entire musical. Also distinguishing this musical is the wildly successful work of director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. With echoes of the dances of Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett’s staging for “Dreamgirls,” Blankenbuehler has transformed this show into an almost non-stop parade of movement. This kind of authoritative work is relatively rare for new musicals nowadays and should be savored.
The cast of “Bandstand” excels, in particular the star performances of Laura Osnes and Corey Cott. The two make a great team, both on the band stage and as a couple, particularly in the Act II song, “This is Life.” And while the stellar Beth Leavel is somewhat wasted in a tiny role, the fellow performers in the band are all pretty wonderful, and they also bring their individual personalities to the stage, both musically and as actors. These performers include Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, and Geoff Packard, all scoring well.
Director/choreographer Andy Blankenbueler has also given “Bandstand” something of a stylized “look,” with excellent scenic design by David Korins, ideal costumes by Paloma Young, and incisive lighting design by Jeff Croiter. A word must also be said for the co-orchestrators, Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, as well as for the fine music direction by Fred Lassen. And while “Bandstand” can sag here and there, by and large it is a worthy new Broadway musical that deserves an audience.
“Bandstand” is currently playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, please visit www.BandstandBroadway.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.
Photo: Corey Cott and Laura Osnes (center) with the cast
Photo by Jeremy Daniel