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The Boys Are Back: Bandstand Streamed For The Actor's Fund

On Friday, April 10th, the Broadway musical Bandstand was released on as part of their Playbill Playback Series. After the show’s closure in September 2017, the musical was filmed professionally, eventually screened in theatres in November 2018 for a limited time. Due to the current shutdown of theatres during this global pandemic, Playbill presented this filmed version of Bandstand for streaming. To access the stream there was a fee of $6.99, with a portion of the proceeds going towards The Actors Fund, which supports theatre artists affected by this shutdown.

Bandstand ran at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway from April to September 2017. The show is an original piece with a powerful book and incredible music by Richard Oberacker and Roger Taylor. Andy Blankenbeuhler helms the piece as director and choreographer, and the show has a starry cast including Corey Cott, Laura Osnes, and Beth Level.

Bandstand is the first musical to ever be “6 Certified” by Got Your Six, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the accurate portrayal of military veterans in film, television, and now, on the stage.

Young musician Donny Novitski struggles to find work and peace after returning home from serving in World War ll. When he hears about a nation-wide songwriting competition, he is inspired to assemble a band of veterans. The group of vets from The Donny Nova Band, along with Julia Trojan (whose husband died in action). They band together to win the contest and to get back the life they had before. Along the way, their friendships and their music help them to begin to heal, preparing them to start anew.

Bandstand has one of the best books ever written for a musical. It tells an important and original story that in a clear and powerful way. It’s amazing how Oberacker and Taylor have combined contemporary context into the feel of a musical from the Golden Age of musical theatre; a careful blend of the serious and the good old razzle dazzle.

Mental illness is one of the major themes of Bandstand and the way this story brings this sensitive subject to the stage is incredibly powerful. While the main focus is on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the returning veterans, the text also explores Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, survivor’s guilt, and grief, alongside physical injuries; all of which were not openly discussed in the era the musical is set in. While covering these topics, it also speaks volumes for the healing power of music.

Bandstand is probably one of the most accurate representations of mental illness in musical theatre, both in the book and how it is showcased in the staging of the show.

Through staging, Blankenbeuhler brings the inner burdens of the characters to life, often using other actors to physically lean heavily on the characters whose struggle is being portrayed. Another way the weight of mental illness is demonstrated with choreography is when characters are surrounded closely by a synchronized ensemble.

One of the strongest moments comes when Wayne (portrayed by Geoff Packard) is cleaning his firearm. As he finishes, the dancing around him stops and the dancers fall into line behind him. All is quiet until the dancer at the back of the line claps their hands. The dance begins again, driving Wayne back into the cleaning ritual.

It’s moving, and the movement brings something so complicated to life in a simple and impactful way. The staging of the musical is all within the same vein, speaking volumes to the audience with ease as it gracefully presents the core of the show.

Corey Cott gives the performance of a lifetime as Donny Novitski, and leads the show with strength and charisma. He delicately brings Donny to life, digging deep as he portrays the complex struggles of PTSD, survivor's guilt, and the struggles faced by returning veterans to society. With tears in his eyes, he recounts the horrors of war, bringing an intensity which makes it hard to breath. Somehow, as he tackles this immense acting challenge, he manages to sing and play the piano effortlessly.

Alongside Cott, the elegant Laura Osnes stars as Julia Trojan. Osnes is Broadway royalty for many reasons, but in this production, her ability to listen and reflect on what is going on around her is sublime.

The supporting cast is as incredible as the two leads. The members of The Donny Nova Band portrayed by Nathan Hopkins, Brandon J. Ellis, Alex Bender, Geoff Packard and Joe Carrol. They are not only strong actors and singers, these performers play their respective instruments on stage, giving the show a new dimension as it alters between the onstage band and the pit.

The ensemble of Bandstand bring a high level of constant energy to the show as they move through Blankenbeuhler’s intricate and nearly continuous choreography. Even through the transitions, the show never stops as the dancers keep on moving, adding an upbeat layer or complex emotional nuance to the story.

Bandstand had everything a musical should have; the ability to make an audience laugh and cry, catchy tunes and emotional ballads, incredible choreography, a touching narrative, and an all-star team.

The opportunity to view Bandstand even on screen, was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, the national tour has been cancelled due to COVID-19, but hopefully this show will not be lost in history. This is a story that needs telling, and only verifies how music can heal and theatre can teach.

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