The final musical of the 2016/2017 Broadway season opened Wednesday night at the Jacobs Theatre. NY1 theatre critic Roma Torre reviews "Bandstand."
"Bandstand" is back on the boards after an earlier run at the Paper Mill Playhouse 18 months ago. The promising musical wasn’t quite ready for the big time back then, but it most certainly is now. With much of the original cast returning, it's a testament to the power of perseverance and the subtle magic of fine tuning.
The story is tighter now. Set in 1945, Donny Novitzki is a World War II vet who struggles to regain his music career. He hears about a contest to record an original patriotic song and decides that’s his ticket. And so he goes about putting together a band comprised of other vets, a motley group of guys suffering with various forms of PTSD. And as it turns out, the widow of Danny's army buddy is a singer who eventually joins the band.
Sure, it sounds a bit contrived, but Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker, who co-wrote the book and lyrics, did a fine job turning the story into a deeply engaging and moving work. With high intensity and just the right touch of humor, they deal sensitively with the emotional issues plaguing each of the characters, while director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler put it into exhilarating motion. His stylized dances, segueing between scenes, are much better integrated now, at times expressing through movement the characters' inner demons.
And Oberacker's music - a mix of swing, jazz, blues and ballad - is appealingly catchy. A couple of tunes are still swirling in my head.
The cast is a wonderfully committed bunch. The guys in the band are equally accomplished musicians, while acting and singing with honest conviction.
Beth Leavel as a supportive mom lights up the stage with tremendous warmth. Laura Osnes continues to prove herself far more than a pretty voice. She is a bonafide actress who happens to sing magnificently. And, through song and dialogue, Corey Cott, delivers a beautifully nuanced portrait of a man on a mission to salvage his damaged soul.
With nary a false note in this revised production, "Bandstand" creates sweet harmony from the dissonance of war.