This post contains spoilers.
Title: Bandstand: The Broadway Musical on Screen
Show Dates: June 25 and 28, 2018
Genre: Broadway, Musical
Premise: Set in 1945 following the end of World War II, Private First Class Donny Novitski returns to his home of Cleveland, Ohio after being away for nearly four years. After hearing about an NBC national songwriting competition to write a tribute to the troops, Novitski—a singer, songwriter, and pianist—sets his eyes on victory and fame. He assembles a band of fellow veterans and a gold-star wife, the Donny Nova Band, to compete in the contest. Along the way, they experience the hardships of re-acclimating to American society and the trauma they carry with them from the war while discovering the healing the power of music.
Other: Presented by Fathom Events, Bandstand: The Broadway Musical on Screen is the film adaptation of Bandstand: The Broadway Musical that was shown in select movie theaters nationwide on June 25 and 28. It played 166 performances at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York from April 26, 2017 to September 17, 2017. The film was shot over the course of a few days in September 2017.
Ashley: I saw Bandstand on Broadway three times and have listened to the cast recording countless times, so it’s obvious I love the show—it’s my favorite musical. And yet, I found there was space in my heart to love Bandstand even more after watching it at the movies both nights.
Watching the show at a movie theater wasn’t as great as watching it live in a Broadway theater, but the movie did the show justice for the most part, and I’m really happy that it allowed so many more people to experience Bandstand. The film version allowed for fantastic close-ups and intimacy that I never got to experience while sitting in the Jacobs Theatre.
The story has a really important overlying message and encompasses a lot of emotion—from sadness to trauma to joy to perfectly-placed humor. The music and dancing are great, and the cast is so immensely talented. It has everything you want out of a Broadway musical: a compelling story, great music, and fun choreography. I just love this show so much; it will always have a special place in my heart.
Amanda: I got to see Bandstand at the end of last summer, so I was familiar with most everything I was about to see in the movie theater, but I really enjoyed what the movie version had to offer. The theatrical version really allowed the audience to get up and close and personal with everyone in the Donny Nova Band and allowed the ensemble to shine as well.
There are quite a few musicals about soldiers and even more about bands, but Bandstand had a rather unique story combining many important messages and themes. The musical gave justice to those who fight and die for our country and what they go through, in addition to the overall importance and legitimate struggles of mental health. The music, singing, and instruments were phenomenal, and the choreography was so much fun and such a joy to watch.
Carly: Bandstand is entertaining, full of emotion, and packed with talent! It sends a really powerful message about mental health, how we care for our veterans, and the power of music. The performances were incredible, and the soundtrack and choreography are first class!
What We Liked
Ashley: Considering Bandstand is my favorite musical, I like most everything about it. But I’ll do my best to keep it to the most important things.
The direction is stellar. As director and choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler heightened the use of choreography, using non-dance elements to further tell the story. I loved the use of ensemble members are representations of these veterans’ post-war trauma. The scene where the ensemble members, dressed as soldiers, slowly push Donny’s piano across the stage, dragging themselves along, only to remove themselves from the situation as Donny experiences a moment of musical genius is stunning.
The music is fun, catchy, and well done, and the choreography is worthy of the Tony Award that Blankenbuehler won for it. The ensemble does a great job of executing such difficult choreography and making it look effortless.
The Donny Nova Band is amazing. The guys in the band are actually playing their instruments live on stage. So on top of the singing and acting they have to do, they play their own instruments, and they do so wonderfully. Some of the guys aren’t regular musicians, and one of them isn’t even a regular actor and is mainly a musician. So for them to go that extra mile to authenticate their roles is so admirable. (Special shoutout to Geoff Packard—who played the trombone player, Wayne Wright—because he’s a twin!)
I’m so glad I watched Bandstand, though, because it introduced me to Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, the lead actors of the show—whom I now absolutely love. Laura Osnes is such a powerhouse, and her voice is amazing and perfect for Julia Trojan. But Corey Cott, in particular, was PHENOMENAL. The amount of dedication he gave to portraying Donny Novitski was astounding. Donny is such a complex character and requires a range of emotions, but Corey portrayed him tremendously. The panic attack Donny has is so believable that you want to cry just seeing him suffer. And Corey’s voice is just everything.
Amanda: Laura Osnes. Her voice is beautiful, and she sounds like a Disney princess, literally―well, almost literally. She’s the original Broadway Cinderella, which isn’t Disney’s Cinderella but rather Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, but whatever. Laura Osnes should be a Disney princess, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
I’ve listened to Corey Cott sing songs from his other Broadway roles, Jack Kelly in Newsies and Gaston Lachaille in Gigi, and his songs in Bandstand definitely show off his skill and range the best. Like, whenever he sings “cream rises” in “Donny Novitski,” that just blows me away every time. And his acting is phenomenal. He played a drunk Donny so well, and I wasn’t able to see that when I watched it on Broadway. And when he was having a panic attack during “Right This Way” at the end of act one, his face legit convinced me that he was definitely experiencing some serious anxiety issues. So I really enjoyed the details the movie was able to show that weren’t as easy to notice on Broadway unless you sat super close.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is fabulous. The choreography of that era was demonstrated well in all of the fun lifts and tricks, and the stage choreography itself of how someone should get from point A to point B or push the piano was so methodically planned.
I’m sure I could think of more things, but I don’t want to make this post super long because Ashley’s answers are already doing that. But I have to mention all of the instruments being played live by the respective actors, because that’s just incredible.
Carly: I really liked the storyline and the way it unfolded on stage. It was easy to follow and easy to get pulled into each character’s life. Donny and Julia both have incredible singing abilities, and I loved every song they performed together. I also really enjoyed the liveliness and energy of the musical itself. It was never dull, even during the sad/slower parts—Corey Cott’s portrayal of emotion as Donny had me hooked and on the edge of my seat.
Ashley: I had some technical problems concerning the filming and editing process of the show, but those are all relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. However, it didn’t offer the same experience as on Broadway—which is fair, because it’s impossible to recreate the entire atmosphere of watching it live on Broadway and then transfer that to a screen.
Story-wise, the members of the Donny Nova Band are all so unique and each have their own moments in the show to highlight that–except for Jimmy, the saxophone and clarinet player. His thing was that he goes to law school and buries himself in that to distract himself from lasting trauma from the war, but there aren’t moments throughout the show where we really get to see that out of him. I know the show was shortened into the final version it became, but I think they could have spared an extra minute for a little more Jimmy.
Amanda: I definitely had some technical issues with the movie version. Sometimes the picture was in too close or just cut and framed in a weird way. (We’re not ever going to talk about the fact the theater Ashley and I were at and how part of “Donny Novitski” stopped playing because of technical difficulties.) But there was a pretty quick turnaround in filming it, editing it, and actually showing it on screen, and nothing looked terrible, so I can excuse that.
Sometimes the audience wasn’t able to fully appreciate the ensemble, choreography, stage design, and just the overall picture of the show because a close-up shot was being used. Maybe a few close-up shots could have been switched out because I knew the audience was missing out on some fun stuff happening in the background.
In terms of the story, there are a few members of the Donny Nova Band I feel like we didn’t get to learn enough about. With seven members in the band, I understand it’s difficult to do, and Donny and Julia were the main focus, but I feel like I know hardly anything about Nick, the trumpetist, in comparison to what I know about the other band members.
Carly: I wish I could have seen this production on stage rather than at the movie theater. I enjoyed a lot of the close up shots, but I would have liked getting to see an overview of the whole stage, especially during the dance numbers.
Ashley: This is a great show for anyone who has served or has loved ones who serve/served in the military, as they’d really connect to the military aspects of the show. Anyone interested in mental health would enjoy also the storyline and how there’s no shying away from what mental health struggles are actually like. But, in general, the combination of the storyline, music, and dance can make it a good pick for people anyone in high school or older. Obviously, though, those who experienced the World War II era and/or swing music, will likely enjoy it more.
Amanda: There’s some language in the show/movie that makes it a bit inappropriate for anyone who isn’t old enough to be in high school, but depending on the maturity level (among other things), I think even a middle schooler could watch and appreciate Bandstand. It’s especially a must-watch for those with military connections, as it really does pay tribute to all who have fought for us.
Older audience members who lived through and understand the WWII era better than younger adults will definitely be able to appreciate the historical setting in time, and the music and dance can bring a sense of nostalgia. Younger audiences may not be as eager to watch this musical as much as Hamilton or Mean Girls because it isn’t full of hip-hop music and isn’t necessarily geared towards them, but Bandstand can be just as entertaining and show younger audiences swing and jazz music and dance aren’t “for old people” and are worth their time.
Carly: I would say this is a great movie for high school age and beyond! It touches on a lot of really important topics that should be talked about more in our present day. A younger audience will enjoy the the music and dance, but an older audience will be better able to understand the historical component and discussion about mental illness.
Image via Bandstand’s official website.