Why sit when you can stand. Why stand when you can dance. And why just dance when you can sing and swing in Paper Mill Playhouse’s frenetic world premiere of “The Bandstand” which, looking at the talent involved, has its eyes on Broadway.
Directed and superbly choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” “Bring It On”) and starring Tony nominee Laura Osnes (“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and Bonnie and Clyde”) and featuring Tony winner Beth Leavel (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), the musical focuses on World War II vets who form a swing band in 1945 to compete in a national radio contest with the hope of winning the chance to appear in a movie.
Also starring is Corey Cott (Broadway’s “Newsies,” “Gigi”) as Donny, a pianist and composer who recruits the band mates and convinces Julia Trojan (Osnes), the widow of his Army buddy who died in battle, to be the girl singer.
Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard and Joey Pero play the musicians, all of whom are scarred in some way by their service experience and plagued by nightmares, alcohol, insomnia and psychological issues. What the fast-moving 2 1/2 show featuring 19 songs makes up with music it loses out with essentially one-dimensional portraits of the band members.
We know more about the lead characters Donny and Julia — and the guilt Donny carries believing Julia’s husband sacrificed his life to save Donny’s — but the other band mates are single-sentence profiles. While the music and choreography are exceptional, the soldiers’ personal stories are negligible. And no doubt about it, these soldiers are hurting at a time when men weren’t suppose to feel or look weak and PTSD was unknown.
I love a good musical, but I really, really like a musical with a good story and “The Bandstand” needs to fill us in more on the band and what makes them tick post-Word War II.
Paloma Young’s costumes are to die for. Paper Mill has always been known for its ability to move sets and set pieces in and out with alarming accuracy and its crew should be commended for doing so with David Korins’ scenic design and Jeff Croiter’s lighting design.
The show runs through Nov. 8. Get more info and order tickets here.