Bandstand: A Trolley Review

It’s been a hot minute since I last blogged, but after my trip to New York this week I was inspired to.

I am a pretty big theatre nerd. I have a vast collection of playbills (most of them I haven’t been to, but they’re pretty), I blog about the performers on tumblr, my iPod is 90% showtunes, and every now and then I am lucky enough to get to see some of it live.

I (devastatingly) have not had the opportunity to take part in theatre yet, which is upsetting seeing as I am now too old to pursue it in really any way, but I still support it in any way I can. However, in recent years the theatre community has become very divided and cut-throat, and I have distanced myself from it. I generally forgot what theatre was really about, and I was blinded by the mass amounts of hate that have been circulating in the industry, to the point I didn’t even watch the Tony’s this year. Seeing Bandstand made me see it again, and I might be in the honeymoon phase right now, but I think my relationship with the theatre fandom might just be salvaged.

Bandstand is a post World War II -set swing show, and captures the side of coming home not often shown in media. Donny Novitski, an army vet, comes home with his sanity on a thread, hoping to continue his pursuit of his music career in a jazz club he regularly played, and gets the cold shoulder. After hearing an ad about a search for a band and song to compete regionally and then nationally to appear in a Hollywood movie, he composes a band of fellow army vets to play gigs and ultimately compete with.

Donny explains to one of his band mates that his late best friend in his division had asked him to check in on his wife, Julia Trojan, and after finally collecting himself enough to do so and facing an awkward few interactions, he goes to hear her sing at church. He later convinces her to join the band, and then we finally meet the Donny Nova Band (featuring Julia Trojan), made up of vets and a gold star wife.

The plot was amazingly delivered, and I cried three times between it and the music. I had no idea how much impact the show would have on me.

The show combined an excellent mix of everything to truly convey the effects of the war on Donny and the other vets, often having one of them drift off or double over in flashback of some sort, with the lighting fixed on them, some sort of sound effect to fill in the audience on what is plaguing them. Small things are thrown in, Donny getting nearly physical with one of the band members over a comment, another member loading and cocking a gun only because he feels he has to, another mentioning how some “wouldn’t know sacrifice if it slapped them in the face”.

The music was amazing, especially for someone who listens to 40’s music on Spotify and in the car just because I can. It stayed true to the theme, any song not swing resembled golden age theatre. They also managed to create a perfect balance between singing and dialogue, which musicals sometimes do struggle with. Every member of the cast played an instrument, and it was so fun to watch them get into it and play live on stage. It was outstanding, it was entertaining and extremely emotionally driven.

The dancing-as credited by the show’s choreography Tony award, was absolutely spectacular. Dancers were used in nearly every scene, and each song had such a difference in choreography that it was hard to remember that the same choreographer. I have yet to see Hamilton, but from the promotions and performances I have seen, I truly believe Andy Blankenbuehler has improved since his work in Hamilton. And the dancers themselves were incredibly skilled and convincing, that Tony was well earned.

Laura Osnes (Julia Trojan) is a true star. She cried real tears, her voice is stunning (that belt though), and she also dances extremely well. She was extremely convincing in her role, and brought the house to tears several times.

I could go on for days about how robbed the show was at the Tony’s, but Corey Cott (Donny Novitski) is truly where I think they dropped the ball. Corey Cott was Jeremy Jordan’s successor as Jack in Newsies back in 2013, and was original cast of Gigi alongside Vanessa Hudgens in 2015. While proving himself to be a solid performer then, I believe his performance in this show was what really separated him from unremarkable to fantastic, and really proved himself to be a star. His acting was phenomenal, between physically sobbing on stage to drunk scenes to scenes of pure elation, he nailed them all. I never wanted him to leave the stage, he portrayed everything amazingly well. Not to mention he learned to play piano just for the show, and his voice was fantastic. His performance made me cry two out of the three times.

The rest of the band was absolutely fantastic as well. James Nathan Hopkins, who played saxophone and clarinet as Jimmy Campbell, was so adorable and funny as a law student, taking on the legal matters of the group. Joe Carrol, who played the drums as the slow and sweet Johnny Simpson, was perfect at being silly, but also letting you in to what consistently haunts him. Brandon J. Ellis, who played the alcoholic and sarcastic Davy Zlatic, was a monster on bass. Not to mention hysterically funny-the delivery of one of his lines had me laughing well into the next scene. Geoff Packard, who played trombone as the strict and tidy Wayne Wright, perfectly encompassed the role of someone who seems like they might have it together, but really don’t at all. Joey Pero, who was a sassy trumpet player named Nick Radel, was outstanding as the sarcastic Italian who seems like he cares about no one, but truly cares about everyone.

Everything about this show was special, and deserves so much attention. I adored every second of it, and I would go see it again in a heartbeat.

You can watch a short series of clips from the show here, and you can listen to my favorite song from the show here, although I do suggest you give a listen to all of it.




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