Review: ‘Bandstand’ Dances, But Doesn’t Always Deliver
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, April 27, 2017
There are so many elements to be savored in the new Broadway production Bandstand. First and foremost is the wonderfully inventive choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, who also serves as the show’s director. It was great fun to watch the balletic/modern dances inspired by dances of the 40s – the jitterbug, swing, the foxtrot and other social dances – all expertly performed by the excellent dancers in the cast. In between scenes, dancers crossed the stage in ways that kept things moving (at least physically). Sometimes these moments created a unique visual comment, like the ghostlike bodies that weighed heavily on the former soldiers. Blankenbuehler has a special, individual gift for creating dramatic, physical movement, displayed successfully in the hit show Hamilton, and the recent revival of Cats.
Bandstand is about a group of World War II veterans who return home, scarred by terrible memories of their experiences in war, but who are trying to return to their former lives by creating a swing band. Driving the plot is their attempt to win a contest that will jumpstart their careers. The members of the band — each a war vet with his own personal problem — were played by actors who actually played their instruments (Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, and Geoff Packard). With the help of these onstage musicians, the music by Richard Oberacker evoked the lively swing sound of the 40s.
The well-designed costumes by Paloma Young captured the everyday fashions of the period, and the fine sets by David Korins allowed room for the dancing. Curiously, the style of the sets changed midway. The set in the first act felt like a real gathering place where folks might come at the end of a work week (with playing areas indicating other locations), whereas the second act, had a more abstract feel. Rather than realistic-looking locations, there were neon-lighted backgrounds that represented the art deco flashiness of New York City.
Of course, there was a love story. Laura Osnes has a lovely girl-next-door quality and a soaring voice, making every song she sang a pleasure to hear. Corey Cott is a personable performer, but didn’t always convey the darker levels of emotions that might have given more dimension to his character. Unfortunately there was very little sense of the attraction between these two characters or why they might care for each other.
Beth Leavel, having won a Tony Award for her portrayal as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone, brought a touchingly funny believability to the role of the mother. Another standout was Mary Callanan—each of the different characters she played were distinct and memorable.
Certainly the concern of American veterans coming back from battle is a timely issue today, yet the production never fully engages emotionally. The first act feels slow, spending a good deal of time introducing the various characters. The second act picked up and had its moments, but despite the apparent efforts, the characters felt mostly one-dimensional. There were some laughs, some moments of sadness, and an occasional wish to cheer, but generally, there was a sense of superficiality that things were being hurried along and glossed over. Unhappily, most of the time, there was an overwhelming lack of drama. There were so many elements that I admired, but the show I saw was not a completely satisfying theatrical experience.
Bandstand at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. First preview on March 31, 2017, opened on April 26, 2017 for an open run. (World premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey on October 18, 2015.) Book and lyrics by Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker; music by Richard Oberacker. Direction and choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler; music supervision and arrangements by Greg Anthony Rassen; scenic design by David Korins; costume design by Paloma Young; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; sound design by Nevin Steinberg. Cast: Laura Osnes, Corey Cott, Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard, Beth Leavel, Mary Callanan, Max Clayton, Patrick Connaghan, Matt Cusack, Andrea Dotto, Marc A. Heitzman, Ryan Kasprzak, Andrew Leggieri, Erica Mansfield, Morgan Marcell, Drew McVety, Kevyn Morrow, Jessica Lea Patty, Becca Petersen, Keven Quillon, Jonathan Shew, Ryan VanDenBoom, Jaime Verazin, Mindy Wallace and Kevin Worley.
Cover: Cast of ‘Bandstand;’ photo: Jeremy Daniel.