Monday, March 20, 2023
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Bandstand - WW II Vets remembered and honored in new American musical

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

War is hell and so is trying to make it on Broadway with a new musical. It’s not easy. In this well-intentioned but predictable BANDSTAND that begins with the sound of bombs exploding, faster and faster (is this an omen?) and then being picked up by the swing rhythm of the 1940’s post war music we are thrust into dancing Vets returning home – the lucky ones - some with physical injuries; some with important mental and drinking problems “to forget” in the first of many montages staged in frantic symbolic odd body positions and shrugs tailored by Andy Blankenbuehler who also directed this uneven production.

One almost begins to expect to see Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland or at least one might hope to see them come to the rescue as Donny Novitski (Corey Cott of the hairy chest and the ultra- bright smile) returns home to Cleveland to pick up his career of pianist/singer in local clubs. Not to be. He’s been replaced by younger guys who didn’t serve.

He had promised his best buddy Michael nicknamed “Rubber” who wasn’t so lucky to seek out his widow Julia Trojan (that’s about the level of the non-too-frequent humor of the piece) to help comfort her. Julia, a poet who sings in the Church choir is portrayed by the lovely Laura Osnes. And so he does.

Recruiting her as lead singer of the 5 piece band of Vets (with him on piano/vocals) that he puts together to enter a national contest “to honor our boys in uniform” - the winning song will be featured along with the band in an MGM musical. And so he sets one of her poems to music… You do see where all this is going?

He changes his name to Donny Nova and wants her to change hers. She doesn’t. She wins.

Along the way we see in flashbacks soldiers at war on the all-purpose unit set (bar, band, open dance area) by David Korins with lots of red, white and blue overhead lighting equipment – lest we forget.

Julia’s mom who gets and delivers the only humor here with true style is played by Beth Leavel. Especially the joke about “deviled eggs.”

The set changes in Act II when they finally get to New York for the final cut. It wasn’t easy as they had no money and they did gigs here and there with Julia helping out when her job at the cosmetics counter allowed. Now here’s the thing. She is wearing diamond stud earrings. If she had only sold them they could have paid for the trip. Why is she wearing diamond stud earrings?

The songs are original. Meaning they are newly written by Richard Oberacker (music/lyrics) and Rob Taylor (book/lyrics). They aren’t very memorable. Once in a while we hear a snippet of a 40’s standard and our ears perk up only to be once again disappointed.

The five guys in the band - all one dimensional characters - play their own instruments backed up by the guys in the pit. They are terrific: Alex Bender – (trumpet) Joe Carroll (drums) Brandon J. Ellis (bass) James Nathan Hopkins (sax) and Geoff Packard – (trombone).

Perhaps they should continue on with their band when they fulfill their duty and are honorably discharged from BANDSTAND. Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Photo: Jeremy Daniel