Bandstand, a heart-wrenching musical about a group of veterans returning home from World War II, with music by Richard Oberacker, and book and lyrics by Rob Taylor and Oberacker, is at The National Theatre.
The show begins in 1945, with Donny Novitski (played by Zack Zaromatidis), a former singer/songwriter who is trying to put his life back together while coping with survivors’ guilt and an industry that seems to have left him behind. After learning about a patriotic band competition for the best song to honor the troops, Donny forms a band with other veteran musicians.
The show opens with the song, “Just Like It Was Before,” as soldiers come home and families look forward to a return to normalcy. Despite the music’s optimism and upbeat rhythm, the number feels like a foreshadowing of the tough road ahead.
Donny rounds up the band members to perform “I Know a Guy,” which introduces saxophone player Jimmy Campbell (Rob Clove), bass player Davy Zlatic (Benjamin Powell), trumpet player Nick Radel (Scott Bell), trombone player Wayne Wright (Louis Jannuzzi III), and drummer Johnny Simpson (Jonmichael Tarleton).
This sensational sextet of actors is a quadruple threat: all act, sing, dance, and play instruments. Each character carries his own burden from the war, and while their personalities do not blend smoothly, the music they make together is infectious and the bond of their shared service holds them together.
The vets are not the only ones hurting. Donny’s best friend, who was lost in the war, left behind a wife Donny had promised to check on. Julia Trojan (played by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith) is the young grieving woman longing to be “Who I Was.” She sings about herself before the war turned her into a “widow,” the state that now seems to define her life.
Julia turns out to be the missing link in Donny’s band. Her vocals are stunning, and her husband’s experience gives her compassion for her fellow band members. Using Julia’s poetry and Donny’s songwriting skills, the band finds their hit song in “Love Will Come and Find Me Again,” a gorgeous melody with moving lyrics.
Predictably along the way, Donny and Julia develop an unlikely love story. While not essential to either character’s story arc, their relationship seems perfectly natural and is a beautiful addition to their journey towards healing.
The company’s dancing and vocals are exceptional. Roxy York stands out as Mrs. June Adams, Julia’s overly enthusiastic but endearing mother who has dealt with her own share of messes in her life. She sings the hilarious but poignant “Everything Happens,” encouraging Julia that while things may go wrong, you have to keep moving.
Bandstand focuses mostly on the mental anguish of veterans that may go unseen as well as the way music and dance can transcend the pain and become a pathway to moving on.
Choreography from three-time Tony Award-winner (and choreographer of Hamilton) Andy Blankenbuehler accentuates every note and the rests in between. The mix of contemporary and jazz dance moves features jaw-dropping jumps and stunts as well as heartbreaking stylized depictions of war scenes.
The musical celebrates the humanity and altruism war can arouse in people — the beauty that can come out of such atrocity; the individual sacrifices of the soldiers, and the compassion of citizens at home who attempt to help the vets. Bandstand is a love letter to all the veterans and their families, saying “We support you. We honor you. Welcome home.”
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Cast: Zack Zaromatidis (Donny Novitski), Jennifer Elizabeth Smith (Julia Trojan), Roxy York (Mrs. June Adams), Rob Clove (Jimmy Campbell), Benjamin Powell (Davy Zlatic), Scott Bell (Nick Radel), Louis Jannuzzi III (Wayne Wright), Jonmichael Tarleton (Johnny Simpson), Shaunice Alexander, Beth Anderson, Michael Bingham, Milena J. Comeau, Ryan P. Cyr, Sarah Dearstyne, Michael Hardenberg, Andre Malcolm, Kaitlyn Mayse, Matthew Mucha, Mallory Nolting, Taylor Okey, Katie Pohlman, Oz Shoshan, Cameron Turner.
Design Team: Richard Oberacker (Books, Lyrics, and Music), Robert Taylor (Book and Lyrics), Andy Blankenbuehler (Original Broadway Director and Choreographer), David Korins and associate Justin West (Scenic Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Jeff Croiter (Lighting Design), Nevin Steinberg (Original Broadway Sound Design), David Thomas (Tour Sound Design), J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova (Makeup, Hair, and Wig Design), Greg Anthony (Co-Orchestrator and Music Arranger), Bill Elliott (Co-Orchestrator), Fred Lassen (Music Supervisor), Gina Rattan (Tour Director), Marc Heitzman (Restager Choreographer and Additional Choreography).