This musical tribute to veterans is, above all, a celebration of America’s can-do spirit. A touching and enlightening show for most ages (recommended 13+), Bandstand’s storyline may be predictable, but audiences won’t care.
Bandstand plays off of America’s genuine sentimentality for the small town “hero,” old-fashioned patriotism, and faith that everything will turn out as it “should.” But just ask the veterans in the audience, this one doesn’t shy away from the real world struggles veterans face when returning home from war and conflict. Bandstand’s particular era was World War II/1945, but its grappling with joblessness, alcoholism, depression, survivor guilt and PTSD are all equally relevant today.
Audiences see Bandstand as the poignant story of a group of veterans trying to rebuild their lives by finding purpose in a band. (Critics may point out, alternatively, that Danny Nova only fills his band with veterans to play to the purpose of the final contest (re: sympathy votes?) and that could open them up to exploitation.) And the best part about all of this is that the cast members actually play their instruments live on stage accompanied by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith’s (Julia Ttrojan) angelic vocals.
And the dancing. Oh! The dancing!
Andy Blankenbuehler’s energetic choreography deserves every award it has won. Bursting with enthusiasm and vivacity, it serves up the spark in an often heart-rending story where even moments of humor are bookended by earnestness.
Some aspects of the happi(er) ending (no spoilers!) don’t sit well with all in the audience, but the magic of the stage makes everything wrap up smartly in the end — even though there’s a song (“This is Life”) giving lip service to the ‘real world.’
All-in-all it’s inspirational. So let this stirring story move you, too.
Bandstand runs Tuesday, March 3 through Sunday, March 8, 2020 at National Theatre. The show runs approximately 2 hours 40 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.