“Sing because you just need to sing.”
It’s one of the many ways Julia Trojan inspires Donny Novitski in “Bandstand,” and it also pinpoints my favorite theme of the show.
“Bandstand” is a post-World War II, clearly defined tribute to veterans. It shows seven different ways war follows the seven members of the Donny Nova Band off the battlefield. One drowns his pain in alcohol, another keeps himself busy, so he won’t have time to recount the war. They manage their grief in ways that create a low tolerance for each other at first, but members of the band find common ground through a common remedy for their pain.
Art is the one thing that brings the band together and helps them heal, and the impact of music and poetry on the characters is more evident as the show progresses. As the Donny Nova Band’s song lyrics become more honest, the show’s war imagery starts to ebb. The characters’ memories are still intact (with the exception of Johnny Simpson), but their music changes the recollection process. Using art as catharsis is not about forgetting, it’s about applying the past to cope with the present and the future.
I got to the movie theater late and had to sit in the first row, so, from my point of view, everyone on screen was distorted to look like they had really thick, long thighs and really small hands. I was slightly distracted by this at moments (imagine watching Corey Cott sing “Donny Novitski” looking like Squidward after discovering the Krabby Patty vault), but I still enjoyed every detail of the show. Not a second was wasted in the way the story progressed, and every transition between scenes had meaning and purpose.
Corey Cott is not only an incredibly talented singer, but he is also an incredibly talented actor who did Donny so much justice. His character’s story is driven by emotion and determination, and Cott was able to portray this in such an authentic way. I think my favorite moment of the show was when soldiers were draped over Donny’s piano, slowly rolling it out, and Donny was using Julia’s poems to craft a song. There was no speaking in this scene; only music and Cott’s performance allowed us to see the lightbulb that lit up in Donny’s mind as he translated Julia’s pain into a truthful ballad.
Julia Trojan seemed like the perfect role for Laura Osnes. Kind and empathetic, but not to a fault. Heartbroken, but sharp and determined to use her grief to help others heal, too. Her voice is like glass (in the best way possible). It’s clear, elegant and is paired beautifully with everything. Her chemistry with Beth Leavel, who plays her mom, is so sweet and sincere.
And I think I should take this opportunity to say, BETH LEAVEL WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARTS OF “Bandstand” and added so much to the show. She’s everything you would want in a wise mother character. The woman Leavel plays is so incredibly funny, honest and has dealt with so much bullsh*t in her life that she won’t waste her breath on any more.
Every actor in the Donny Nova Band fit their character so comfortably and made it so easy to hurt when they hurt. It would not have been the same show without them.
I don’t think anyone has the attention span to fully read the pages I could write about the ensemble and how phenomenal their dancing was. Andy Blankenbuehler’s work really transports you back in time with every motion made in the choreography. I used to listen to the “Bandstand” cast album on my bike ride to my U.S. History class because it was like physically permeating all boundaries of time and plopping myself in 1945.
I will be waiting for Netflix to upload this show, so I can consecutively watch the live filmings of “Newsies” and “Bandstand” when I feel like crying for four hours straight.