When I spent last summer in New York, it was my very first time ever being there. I knew one of the things I had to do while there was go see a Broadway show. I only had one show on my must-see list, though: Bandstand.
Did I know what it was about? No. Did I know of any of the main cast? No. I knew nearly nothing about the show except that Ryan Kasprzak, a dancer who has been featured on So You Think You Can Dance, was in the ensemble. He’s one of my favorite dancers, and it was his first Broadway show. So when I found out I’d be in New York for the summer, I had to watch him perform.
After going in with nearly no knowledge of what Bandstand entailed, I ended up watching the show three times and fell in love with it. I would’ve watched it even more times, too, had I not waited until late July to first watch it. I decided to watch it a second time after hearing that the show would close in September after opening in late April, so I wanted to watch it while I still could. I watched it one last time in late August, and I thought it would be the last time I watched it.
But, 10 months after that third time, I’ll be watching Bandstand again—just not live in a Broadway theater in Manhattan.
Fathom Events and Sing Out, Louise! Productions have partnered to show Bandstand in movie theaters across the country on June 25 and 28, so I’ll be at a movie theater watching my favorite musical on the big screen both nights. And I hope many others will, too, because it is a great and underrated Broadway musical that should not be missed for several reasons.
Considering most shows on Broadway are musicals and not plays, triple threats aren’t an uncommon find on Broadway. Acting, singing, and dancing are the norm. Bandstand’s main cast doesn’t do too much dancing in the show—which isn’t to say none of them dance in the show or that none of them can dance, but dancing’s more so for the ensemble in Bandstand. The men in the main cast, however, are still full of triple threats in the sense that they’re acting, singing, and playing their own instruments.
Bandstand is a story about World War II veterans who come together to form a swing band and compete in a national contest, and the men portraying the veterans/band members are actually playing their instruments on stage. They aren’t acting as musicians; they are musicians. When one of them is sitting behind a piano or holding a saxophone, the instruments aren’t props; they’re instruments to be played. So although there’s still an orchestra playing music for the show, the orchestra isn’t heavily relied upon. The main music comes from the actors themselves, and it’s an admirable and incredible feat.
Got Your 6 Certification
Got Your 6 is a campaign that, per its website, “unites nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to empower veterans.” One of the things they do is encourage and advocate for accurate portrayals of veterans within pop culture. Such media that do so become “6 Certified,” and Bandstand was the first theater production to be 6 Certified, receiving the certification before it even made it to Broadway.
In the show, the creators didn’t shy away from highlighting mental health issues. The veterans have trouble assimilating back into society and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. From alcoholism to obsessive compulsive disorder to anger management issues, each of them has their own ways to cope with the aftermath of the war.
As someone who tries to help normalize mental health struggles, it was great seeing a show that didn’t shy away from such hardships. Even better, countless veterans have expressed their appreciation and gratitude for this show. Above all else, that’s what really matters with Bandstand.
Tony Award-winning Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, the director/choreographer of Bandstand, won the 2017 Tony Award for “Best Choreography.” He also won the award in 2008 and 2016 for his work with In the Heights and Hamilton. That said, it’s obvious Blankenbuehler knows what it takes to choreograph good dance numbers.
The dancing in Bandstand is authentic and energetic. The ensemble does a tremendous job performing, and they execute everything seemingly effortlessly—including some very difficult lifts. But even the non-dancing choreographed elements of the show are impressive and meaningful, and Blankenbuehler’s dual role as director and choreographer of the show made way for such moments. Dance Informa’s Mary Callahan detailed Blankenbuehler’s work in Bandstand best:
Blankenbuehler serves as both director and choreographer of Bandstand, which undoubtedly helps the choreography not only to integrate seamlessly into the plot but also to supplement and support it. There’s a good amount of all-American swing dance with fantastic partnering that goes beyond the typical “straddle around the guy’s waist” or “slide between his legs”. But no matter a casual swing dance with couples partnering independently or a lively ensemble number with lifts and turns and tosses, the choreography is always believable and natural (albeit quite technical and athletic). …
Bandstand is a testament to how a period piece can fuse authentic choreography with contemporary movement in a way that maintains its integrity — and, in fact, it might even strengthen its impact. There are hip-hop and modern dance references throughout the show. And while this might seem odd, the moments are remarkably powerful and beautiful.
The show is filled with swing music, but it’s not all the same. The songs vary from being fun, sad, emotional, meaningful, and aggressive. An important aspect of musicals is the songs’ ability to complement and help tell the story of the show, and the songs in Bandstand do that tremendously. In fact, the songs in Bandstand are what made me fall in love with the show. After deciding to watch the show for a second time, I started listening to the cast recording and could not stop. I loved the way the songs told Bandstand’s story (“Right This Way” is phenomenal!), and I pretty much listened to it nonstop all of last August. Nothing beats hearing the songs performed live, though.
But it’s not simply the songs as a whole that I enjoy. It’s a step beneath that: the music itself.
I’m not a technical music person in the sense that I can’t play or read music, having forgotten what I learned in my middle school music classes. But it doesn’t take technical knowledge to realize the beauty in music, which is exactly what I’ve found in Bandstand. Strip down the songs to just music, making them instrumental, and the emotions are all still there.
If my opinion isn’t enough, consider the fact orchestrators Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen were nominated for the 2017 Tony Awards for “Best Orchestrations” for their work with Bandstand.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Recommendation
In case you don’t know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is, he’s the genius behind Hamilton, and he not only went to see Bandstand once but a second time before it closed. If that isn’t enough to prove how great of a show Bandstand is, consider Miranda’s opinion/recommendation—which doesn’t rely on his previous working relationship with Blankenbuehler:
Much like how LeBron James played a significant role into making me a basketball lover, Corey Cott nearly single-handedly made me a Broadway fan.
I credit Bandstand as the show that got me truly interested in Broadway, but Corey deserves credit for being the actor that got me truly interested in Broadway. They’re mutually exclusive: I never would have come to love Bandstand if not for Corey, and I never would’ve been a fan of Corey if not for Bandstand. He portrays Donny Novitski, the show’s main character, so well and puts on such a powerful performance. When you see Corey on stage, you truly believe he’s Donny.
I have seen comments from various dedicated, knowledgeable Broadway fans who have said that Corey was robbed and should’ve won—let alone been nominated for—a Tony for “Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.” While I’m not overly familiar with Broadway yet and especially wasn’t familiar with all the shows and performances from the 2016-17 Broadway season, having seen Corey in Bandstand multiple times, I understand why people have thought such. Also, Corey learned to play the piano just for this role, feeling as though it would make the show more authentic. Talk about dedication.
Interestingly enough, I have wanted to watch every Broadway show Corey has been in (the other ones being Newsies and the Broadway revival of Gigi) without even knowing who he was. But I’m glad Bandstand was the first show of his that I saw. If not for Bandstand, I don’t think I would have realized just how talented he is or become as big of a fan of his. A great deal of why I’m such a big fan of Corey has to do with his portrayal of Donny, which wouldn’t have happened if not for Bandstand’s existence.
Visit Bandstand’s official website to find a theater near you that will be showing Bandstand and to buy tickets for the show.
Image via Bandstand’s official website.