Bandstand on Broadway

It was my last day in New York. I had just left the matinee of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 in utter disbelief of the magic that was made on the stage of the Imperial. My mother and I had gone to dinner and were now waiting in line to enter the Jacobs Theatre to see Bandstand.

Bandstand was the one show that I had actually planned on seeing while in New York. I knew I would see others, but hadn’t bought the tickets, but I wanted to make sure to see Bandstand. Maybe it was a bit of a redemption for the first time I had come to the city to see Cinderella and Laura Osnes was out of the show that week, maybe it was my incessant need for originality on Broadway, or maybe it was both. I knew I wanted to see this show.

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Something that I love doing, and rarely have the opportunity to do, is seeing a show without even an idea of what it is about. I love being able to enter a theatre with a blank pallet and let the actors and musicians take me away. I had an idea of what Bandstand was about. I knew that it was about men who returned home from WWII and started a band, but Lord, I had no idea what I was in for.

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The show starts and you are instantly taken to the war. You are there with Donny and Michael and are faced with the harsh realities of what happened there. They don’t sugar coat it, its real. When you end up in Cleaveland and see the way the war has changed people, it’s an eye opener. Before I saw this show, WWII seemed so far away, so disconnected. I knew that my grandfather had fought, I knew he saw things he never talked about, but this show put it into perspective for me. The way you see these men behave and try to deal with their inner demons is such eye-opening theatre. When the doctor tells Donny to find something quick, that he’s gone to three funerals that month because the men wanted a way to make it stop, I actually wanted to cry. Back then, and even to an extent now, people didn’t talk about what happened. They were expected to get over it, see it as an honor, and get through it. But talking about experiences helps so much, but it just wasn’t seen as an option then, they just had to do what it took to make it like it was before.

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When the 11 o’clock number rolls around and you see that someone is talking about it, that they want every man who served to know that they aren’t alone, I wanted to cry even more. I wish something like that was more readily available to men then, or even now. Sure, TV shows and movies talk about it, but back in the day, they had the MGM movie musicals that were more about the lavish homecomings than the realities of war.

This show has so many amazing aspects to it. It is a swing musical, which isnt common on Broadway, and not just that, but the actors on stage also play their own instruments. This means that not only do these actors have to act, sing, and dance well, but also be able to play swing music amazingly. There are still pit musicians who play the rest of the score, but when the Donny Nova Band is playing, the actors are playing the music.

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Also, Tony winner for Hamilton, Andy Blankenbuehler directs and choreographs the show. I remember that during one particular dance number, there are people sliding with chairs across the stage and the audience went absolutely nuts for it. It was amazing. There is no doubt that this show had the best choreography this season, they won a Tony for it.

But what makes this show even more amazing is that this show is the first Got Your Six certified Broadway musical, meaning it’s the first show to accurately portray veterans stories. These stories need to be told just as much as any other story on Broadway.

The performances by the actors were just so touching. Having been a fan of Laura Osnes for years, finally getting to see her in a show was such an amazing experience. But it was Corey Cott’s performance of Donny that absolutely blew my mind. Why he was not nominated for a Tony still baffles me. He gave his all and left it on the stage during that performance. His performance was one that will honestly stick with me for years to come.

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Whatever your thoughts on the military may be, this show tells the stories of what happens to people who do what they think is the best thing for their country and how they do their best to cope with those experiences.

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Great Comet, Great Birthday

Saturday. Matinee. My 22nd birthday. Great Comet

I left Los Angeles for New York two days before my 22nd birthday with tickets for only one show (Bandstand) and an idea of what other shows I wanted to see. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 was at the top of the list. So when I was able to buy next-day matinee tickets at TKTS I was absolutely beside myself.

I had listened to the Off-Broadway Cast Recording for about a year before leaving for New York and had fallen in love with the story and the show itself. I knew that some changes would be made but I had absolutely no idea about how I would feel during this show.IMG_4309.jpg

We, my mother and myself, rolled up to the Imperial Theatre in an Uber after getting myself a birthday blowout at DryBar, ready for what this show would become. Upon entering the theatre, I was immediately transported and disoriented. This is not what a Broadway theatre typically looks like, I felt cramped and a bit like Kimmy Schmidt, trapped in a bunker. But after following the crowd through the entry, I was once more transported into a lush, lavish, and absolutely beautiful Russian supper club.

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When the lights went down and the actors came out to discuss the rules of the club, I was instantly committed to the show. And then they won me over once more by handing out boxes of potato and onion perogies, which I was lucky enough to find myself in possession of. I was in love.

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The lights dimmed, the chandelier rose, and the show began. The prologue makes me so happy with the repeating verses which are insanely helpful. I find that by repeating the names of who is who, it helps the audience get a better grasp of the characters and their personalities.

I wasn’t a fan of Josh Groban, not that I didn’t like him, I just hadn’t had much exposure to his music. I knew him from the 2008 UK Concert of Chess, and thought he was wonderful in that. But he truly shines as Pierre and I feel lucky to see him make his Broadway debut. I also knew that as a fun fact he attended LACHSA, which is one of the high schools that are basically on my college campus.

As for Denée Benton, I actually saw her 3 years ago in the National Tour of Book of Mormon as Nabulungi. From what I remember, she was great in that. As Natasha, however, she soared. I cannot imagine someone more suited for this role than her. Her performance was so wonderful and she truly embodied that naive, love-struck character that is Natasha. Also, this being her Broadway debut was pretty exciting.

For me, however, the absolute standout of the show was Lucas Steele as Anatole. He was able to exude the charm and stubbornness that the character requires all while singing his little heart out. He was funny and, God, he was so charming.

When I woke up on Tuesday May 2, 2017 to the news that all three of these actors were Tony-nominated for their performances made my heart soar.

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A criticism I have heard about the show is that they speak a lot of their actions and some people do not like that. But I think it’s genius for two reasons. ONE, the show has pretty much redesigned the Imperial Theatre and the actors are performing around you all the time, including up in the mezzanine and at the back of the orchestra so nearly ever seat has some sort of obstruction, and so the actions being narrated is necessary. TWO, the show is based on a 70-page section of War and Peace, a book, by narrating the actions, it stays truer to the book, as if they are reading directly out of it. I think that is brilliant.

I love that the show is interactive, the actors are playing with the audience and toasting with them. I remember that during the song Letters, Anatole sends a letter along a row in the audience to Natasha. The row happened to be comprised of mainly older people and the last in the row was an elderly lady who was supposed to give the letter to Natasha. She, obviously, couldn’t move as well as a younger person might have so it took her a bit longer than anticipated to hand the letter over, but the audience gave a big cheer as she went to sit back down, and my heart swelled.

When the cast members came out with egg shakers for Balaga and the audience couldn’t keep the rhythm of the song, I felt so much joy. I love audience participation so much when no one is singled out.

I love how different and immersive this show is. It doesn’t leave you with a warm feeling in your heart unless the idea of no one being happy or in love makes you feel warm and fuzzy. To each their own. Still, this show is special, it leaves you feeling new and refreshed and like you and these characters are given a new start.

Everything about this show, the actors, the set design, the costumes, the book, and the music come together to form a perfect art piece. Not one day has passed since I saw this show that I have not listened to the cast recordings and spoken about this show. Of the three shows I saw on that trip, this is the one that has left the biggest impact on me. The fearlessness this show has by being different than the others is so promising of the future of Broadway, and that gives me hope.

I know this seems like a rave, but thats because it is. I love Great Comet. I love this show and want nothing but the best for this show and these actors. I want to see this show a million more times and I wonder if ever this could tour. I want everyone to see this show. When my friends tell me about the trips to New York they have planned for the summer, I tell them to see this show. Even when Groban leaves in early July, Oak will come in and kick ass.

Until next time,

Katie