Ashley's Assessment · Broadway

Rank and Review: Bandstand Original Broadway Cast Recording

This post was written in honor of the one-year anniversary of Bandstand’s cast recording release and the theatrical release of Bandstand on June 25 and 28. This post also contains mild spoilers.

For reference: Bandstand is a musical about World War II veterans and a gold star wife who come together after the war to form the Donny Nova Band and compete in a national songwriting competition.

When I first started familiarizing myself with the Bandstand cast recording, I had already seen the show once, but I didn’t love it—yet. I began listening to the cast recording nearly nonstop: while I worked, during walks home from work, while I ate meals, when I hung out in my tiny New York apartment. The more I listened to the songs, the more I enjoyed them. Eventually, I fell in love with the songs, watched the show a second time, and fell in love with the show as a whole.

Soon enough, my favorite song from Bandstand changed daily, because the show is filled with great songs. One day, it’d be “First Steps First.” Another day, it’d be “You Deserve It.” A week later, it’d be “Right This Way.”

In the 10 or so months since I first listened to the cast recording, I have actually decided on a favorite song. But ranking all 24 songs from the Bandstand cast recording from favorite to least favorite was  rather difficult. The cast is filled with talented singers/musicians who voices are all unique but mesh well together, and the songs are well written are composed, making the album tremendous.

24. “Dwight Anson & Jean Ann”

Although I said it was difficult to rank all the songs, picking this as my least favorite was actually a no-brainer. It serves as an introduction to the contest and gives an idea as to what it was like to tune into such a competition. It starts with music featuring the band that goes on before the Donny Nova Band, and then transitions to Jean Ann Ryan, a radio personality, narrating the competition and introducing the next contestants.
I really enjoy the music featured in it. It’s fun, upbeat, and serves as a nice transition in the show.

23. “Epilogue”

As the title suggests, this is the final song in the show. It gives you a look at where the Donny Nova Band is a year after the radio contest and includes a shortened version of “Nobody.”

I love that some of the dialogue in this scene is featured in the beginning, because it adds a lot to the track, makes it better, and gives a better sense of where the Donny Nova Band is at. It wraps up the show well and on a good note.

22. “The Boys Are Back”

“The Boys Are Back” is more than anything a way to transition from one number into another scene, but it’s so fun. It’s best appreciated while watching the show, though. Unless you’ve already seen the show and know beforehand, you don’t know how the featured part of this song is performed, and that’s the best part of it.

Bandstand composers Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor described the scene in a Playbill article:

The sound feature for the last part is done with Joe Carroll’s character drumming with sticks on the strings of Brandon Ellis’ bass, while Brandon’s character plays the bass one handed. The other hand is busy chugging a beer bottle…

21. “Proud Riff”

Solely instrumental, “Proud Riff” is a well composed piece best appreciated within the context of the scene.The music builds up further into the song, giving off bits of aggression and drama, only to die back down as the song comes to an end. It serves as a great complement to the choreography featured in this number.

20. “Just Like It Was Before (Reprise)”

This song is one of the few in which Beth Leavel, who plays Mrs. Adams, gets a chance to be truly featured, and she does great in it. Mrs. Adams is speaking with her daughter, Julia (played by Laura Osnes), and the songs characterizes her well. Her personality is evident, and it’s easy to realize that she just wants Julia to live her life again.

19. “Everything Happens”

Mrs. Adams is a great character who offers a great deal of comedy in the show, but this song highlights her maternal, caring nature and is Beth Leavel’s chance to shine musically. It’s a way for Mrs. Adams to console Julia in an honest but heartfelt manner.

18. “I Got A Theory”

“I Got A Theory” features a song Donny, the band leader, and Julia wrote together with tidbits of dialogue throughout it. It starts with Donny (played by Corey Cott) and Julia messing around with each other, playing instruments and coming up with random lyrics, and the song takes that same tone. It’s fun and playful and offers some bits of dialogue: how the band is trying to raise money for a New York trip, how different venues want to book them, how the band members interact with one another. I imagine if I were from or lived in Ohio, I’d be much more into this song, as it highlights the state and its people.

17. “Counterpoint/Pie Jesu”

From the mellow music to Julia’s singing, which she’s doing at church, the simplest way to describe this short but sweet song is “beautiful.”

16. “Just Like It Was Before”

The longest song of the show, “Just Like It Was Before” is the Bandstand’s opening number. From Donny fighting in the war to returning home to hearing about the songwriting contest on the radio, it sets the stage for the rest of the musical.

The message behind the song is spot on, as there’s hope and a sense of ignorance within it. It begins with high tempo, high energy piece that encompasses the celebratory tone of winning the war and welcoming soldiers home while emphasizing how life is going to be great and “just like it was before” the war. Then, it transitions to a slower pace as it becomes evident that Donny’s life, as well as the lives of other veterans, isn’t as easy as he thought it’d be at home.

Considering it’s an eight minute-long song, there’s a lot to take in, but the shifts in tone and tempo are appropriate and done well.

15. “A Band in New York City”

“A Band in New York City” perfectly captures the elation and excitement that comes with not only being in New York City but being there for the first time. Each band member has their moment of astonishment of how great and grand the city is, and it’s though they’re all living a new, luxurious life in which anything’s possible. It truly gives listeners a sense of the city, and it definitely takes me back to being there.

14. “Love Will Come and Find Me Again”

This is the first song Julia, with Donny’s help and compositions, writes in the show, and it’s very much so a personal story for her. As a gold star wife, she carries grief with her, but this song shines a light on the hope she has found. The lyrics are intimate and truthful, and Osnes shows off her voice well and sings with the urgency she finds in her character.

13. “Welcome Home”

The dialogue at the start of this song is important context, so I’m glad it was included. Donny turns a poem Julia wrote for the band into a song, “Welcome Home,” and sings a section of it before the instrumental section comes up. The instrumental section actually serves as background for some really beautiful choreography that sets the stage for the main part of the song: a romantic version of “Welcome Home.”

The song, as a whole, captures understanding, yearning, and love really well.

12. “Welcome Home (Finale)”

Filled with harsh truths that the world didn’t want to acknowledge, this song is aggressive, fierce, and oh so powerful. It’s difficult to fully appreciate this song on its own and not within the show’s context, because simply listening to the song, though tremendous, doesn’t offer the same sense of betrayal and importance as it does when watching this number. It’s not evident through a recording how much skill and focus is required for this song. Even so, this song is a great medium for a message that remains no matter how it’s consumed: fighting in the war was difficult, and life isn’t less difficult now that these soldiers are home.

11. “First Steps First”

“First Steps First” is Julia’s first experience with the Donny Nova Band, and this song captures the entire scene really well. You get a small sense of Julia’s hesitation despite a solid performance, and you get a great idea of how Donny and Julia work together and how important their dynamic is. It shifts from a slow, mellow tune to a fun, upbeat bop that leaves you feeling good.

10. “Who I Was”

This song is Julia’s first of the show, and it highlights the identity loss she’s battling as a new gold star wife. You can feel how it’s as though she’s just going through the motions and is unsure of what’s next for her. Osnes is a star with a fantastic voice, and I love how she employs it in “Who I Was.”

9. “I Know A Guy”

“I Know A Guy” is an introduction to all of the other members of the Donny Nova Band as they’re joining the group. I love the paralleled use of “I Know A Guy,” how one member characterizes the next one, Donny’s commentary as he realizes the band’s reality, and the buildup of the song as it progresses.

8. “Ain’t We Proud”

Transitioning right from “I Know A Guy,” this song is the first one the Donny Nova Band performs together. It features a simple message with a catchy tune that showcases the musicians well and is easy to get into.

7. “Breathe”

“Breathe” features the group dynamic of the newly formed Donny Nova Band. Donny is obviously the leader, but he’s very nitpicky and specific with what he wants out of his bandmates, and the dialogue placed in between the lyrical sections portrays that. It’s not always easy for them all to work together, but they know what one another has gone through. They all share a love for music and are finding out the therapeutic healing powers it has.

Also, Corey Cott (Donny) belting out “hallelujah” at 0:26 is perfection.

6. “You Deserve It”

I’m pretty sure if you looked up “bop” in the dictionary, “You Deserve It” would come up. It’s such a fun, high-energy song that’s begging you to sing along. It’s also the first full song Donny and Julia sing together, which is a plus.

This was one of my first favorite songs from the Bandstand cast recording solely because of Corey Cott’s (Donny) singing at 1:24-1:41. Call me a bobby soxer if you want, but I’m not lying when I say I would (metaphorically) swoon following that section every time I heard it.

5. “This is Life”

“This is Life” is a song that’s full of intimacy but also plagued with conflict. You can feel the chemistry between Donny and Julia just by listening to this, and you can hear problematic nature of the situation. I adore the use of tropes and allusions throughout the song almost as much as I love the job Corey Cott and Laura Osnes did in portraying Donny’s and Julia’s emotions.

4. “This is Life (Reprise)”

The Donny Nova Band is faced with a difficult decision, and that’s what the dialogue at the start of the song regards. Donny has so much raw emotion in this short song that it all pours out, and Corey Cott performs it tremendously and with so much power. Simply listening to the track doesn’t do justice the acting job he does as Donny in this scene. You truly believe he’s going to cry because of the intense emotions he feels as he belts his face off at the end.

3. “Donny Novitski”

“Donny Novitski” is exactly what it you think it is: a song about Donny Novitski sung by Donny Novitski. Egotistical much? Yes, and that’s kind of the point.

This song is an introduction to Donny’s character, who is somewhat egotistical and confident of himself and his abilities. It characterizes him well, gives great background, and is an entertaining piece.

2. “Nobody”

In a Playbill article, Bandstand composers Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor described “Nobody” as “just one big “eff you” to anyone that stands in (Donny’s) way,” and it’s a perfect explanation. The song is fast-paced and energetic and gives off defiant vibes. You listen to the lyrics and feel empowered to do what you want. I like to use “Nobody” as the tone for my morning alarms, because it’s a great first listen of the day.

1. “Right This Way”

At the end of last August, I decided “Right This Way” is my favorite song from Bandstand. I’ve listened to the cast recording numerous times since then, and it still hasn’t changed. So I think it’s safe to say it will remain that way, and much of why it’s my favorite has to do with the scene in which “Right This Way” takes place.

Right before the song, the act one closer, the band receives unexpected news that triggers rage and other emotions. Donny channels those emotions in the song, expressing that he and his veteran bandmates will be treated with the respect they deserve. He compels them to not give up and join him in this fight for themselves and what’s right. It’s so powerful, and the song alone simply can’t capture that. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll take Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s word:

Listen to the whole Bandstand cast recording in order.

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.


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