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15, Oct 2015
Corey Cott, Laura Osnes & the band, photo by Jerry Dalia

Bandstand, a Broadway-bound musical

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

The Bandstand. Music & lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor. Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn New Jersey.

 

Its rare to find an original Broadway show that’s not adapted from a movie or book. The Bandstand is that rarity, and its story-line is different from anything seen before.

Musicals about World War II have been the juke-box type with an assortment of old songs. The Bandstand, on the other hand, has entirely original music by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, who do not slavishly copy the sounds of that era.

The show is set after the war, when the boys came home, full of optimism and hope. But and here’s a twist the protagonists are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Some of them have trouble sleeping, some pop pills, some drink too much. Our hero wonders why he came home alive while his best friend was killed before his eyes.

These men offer a tangible explanation of why most WWII veterans were so reluctant to talk about their experience that they became known as the Silent Generation.

Six guys form a band and try to succeed in show business. The music they play is not Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman, but has a more progressive sound like that which we heard from big bands in the post-war period. They hire a girl singer named Julia, and that provides romance and some tension as she happens to be the widow of that best friend who died in battle.

The glimpse at the trauma of war veterans is a good angle, and it could be delved even deeper as this show is polished for a Broadway run.

The protagonist of Bandstand is Corey Cott (Newsies, Gigi) who is charismatic, determined and edgy. He is the effective headliner of the show, just as his character is the logical front man for the band. Laura Osnes (Bonnie & Clyde, Cinderella) is a wonderful singer and actress as Julia and Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) is a solid support as her mother.

Director and choreographer is Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights) who keeps the action swirling as he portrays battlefield action and ballroom jitterbugging.

The most appealing aspect of Bandstand is the musical performance by the war veterans. All of the men portraying band members are convincing actors, they sing and dance well and are exceptional instrumentalists: James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard, Brandon J. Ellis the bassist, Joe Carroll the drummer and Joey Pero the trumpet player.

The best song is “Welcome Home,” portraying the struggles of the band members, and their generation, and “Love Will Come And Find Me Again” is an appealing ballad for Osnes.

 

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