When I saw Bandstand at Paper Mill Playhouse, Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography was jumping and jiving. The show of course needed some polishing, but it was exciting and wonderful. I’m not sure what happened, but Andy Blankenbuehler the director cut a lot of his numbers (he is also the choreographer) to allowed Broadway newcomers Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor, the book and lyric writers to re-write. The result is a show that never allows us to digest the horrors of what Vets go through. Instead from the moment the show starts, with “Just Like It Was Before,” we are thrown into a sarcastic jab at what soldiers who see the ravages of war and whose time away from home are faced with. Not only do they have to live with PTSD, but there lives are not here waiting for them. In a sense time has passed them by.
Also different from the Paper Mill Playhouse version is Danny Novitski, (Corey Cott, Newsies, Gigi), who now takes center stage. Danny isn’t a lovable person from the get go. He is arrogant and now terribly messed up. We learn about his life in “Danny Novitski.“ According to the song, Danny was geared to be a star in Cleveland, but now no longer a young prodigy, younger artists have taken his place. It is 1945 and when Danny hears a national song contest on the radio called Tribute to the Troops!, he assembled a band of other vets to catch his break with “I Know a Guy,” one of the best songs in the show. Enter Nick Radel (Alex Bender ) on trumpet, Wayne Wright (Geoff Packard Matilda) on trombone, on bass Davy Zlatic (Brandon J. Ellis, Once), on Sax Jimmy Campbell (James Nathan Hopkins) and drummer Johnny Simpson (Joe Carroll, Cinderella). Each battling their own demons. Bands from all 48 state will compete to write and perform the next great swing song “in honor of our boys in uniform.” Donny’s band has chops, but it isn’t until Danny keeps his promise to his army buddy and looks in on his widow Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes), that the band takes off. Julia is a singer, a poet and hot tomato. When she sings the bluesy winning “Love Will Come and Find Me Again,” about a woman getting to date again after her love has not come home and is listed among the dead, the band places in the finals.
The contest is rigged in every aspect and the band jumps over every trench to make it onto the TV show, only to find out that by singing their song live, they get nothing in return. Making their final stand they sing the heart wrenching, defiant and painful “Welcome Home.” In the end there is a happy ending, but it seems a little MGM and fake considering the rest of the show.