There is an emotional kick to the new musical “Bandstand” attuned to veterans who have suffered the traumas of warfare and when they return attempt to find their place in society and in relationships. Although the story deals with vets of World War II and is set in 1945, the issues and emotions involved could apply to any war, including in or own era.
The music is by Richard Oberacker, who wrote the book and lyrics with Rob Taylor, and the show is fortunate to have two very appealing stars, Corey Cott as Danny Novitski, who returns home to Cleveland still wracked by the loss of a buddy in battle, and Laura Osnes as Julia Trojan, whose husband was the man Danny also mourns. Cott is handsome and has an impressive voice. Osnes is an extremely appealing singer and actress and she adds much strength as well as beauty to the show. It is a pleasure to hear them interpret a song.
But “Bandstand” takes a good while to get going as the plot is laid out and the fellows, all vets, form a six-man swing band, with Julia enlisted as its vocalist. The group begins aiming for New York by entering a contest in Cleveland. It turns out that the band is exploited and has to struggle hard to raise the money to get to New York, and then the members have to take a strong stand to speak up and sing meaningfully to make all aware that they are veterans carrying the banner for other men returned from battle and deserving to be recognized. Of course, Danny and Julia fall for each other, but slowly, given Julia’s pain from the loss of her husband.
Backing all of this is the music, with the actors playing their own instruments and the show filled with song underscored by vigorous dancing by chorus members--dancing that goes on even while drama is unfolding, reflecting an attempt to integrate all elements by the direction and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler.
Although the music sets the overall tone and the band is enjoyable, as are the vocals of Osnes as Julia, I find the style mixture strange. This was the swing era of the 1940s, and rather than stick to the sounds of that era, there is a mix of contemporary sound as well. Thus the band doesn’t seem strictly like a band of the 1940s, at least not to my ears.
The period is better expressed by the dancing, rooted in the jitterbugging of the 40s, with fantastic moves by the skillful performers, such as tossing over the shoulders and sliding between legs.
The supporting cast has appeal and Beth Leavel, although with a minimal part as Julia’s mother, has a few good moments as she gives sage advice to her daughter.
The show at times seems clichéd and muddled. It pulls together dramatically in the second act as the musicians take their stand in opposition to what they are supposed to do in a broadcast from New York and stand up for Word War II vets. Those stirring moments are the payoff and are likely to get right-on audience applause. The point has been vigorously made even in this odd entertainment concoction. At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 30, 2017.