As Lincolnites battle through the dead of winter, a little vibrant music goes a long way toward livening up the endlessly cold nights. “Bandstand” is the perfect remedy to cabin fever, proving to be a fast-paced, impassioned force that roared into the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Friday night.
“Bandstand” debuted on Broadway in 2017 featuring music by Richard Oberacker. Oberacker and Robert Taylor collaborated on the book and lyrics. The production was nominated for two Tony Awards, winning one for Andy Blankenbuehler’s (“In the Heights,” “Hamilton”) choreography.
“Bandstand” begins in 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio, just as the troops are returning home victorious from World War II. After hearing of a radio competition meant to pay tribute to the troops, veteran Donny Novitski (Zack Zaromatidis) forms an all-vet band to enter the competition in hopes of instant fame and fortune.
Along the way, Donny gets to know the widow of his best friend who died in battle, Julia Trojan (Jennifer Elizabeth Smith), who quickly joins the band as a lead singer. The six men and Julia work through their grief and trauma via music as Julia and Donny grow closer.
The main thing that stands out about Bandstand is its catchy music and mesmerizing dancing, pulled off by its immensely talented ensemble. Each member of the cast proficiently sings, dances and, in some cases, plays an instrument, resulting in an extremely entertaining two-and-a-half hours.
Zaromatidis and Smith carry the show with their palpable chemistry. Zaromatidis, while not quite reaching a few high notes in certain moments, convincingly portrays a veteran wrought with guilt over surviving the war while his friend didn’t. Smith has a gorgeous voice and commanding stage presence, flanked hilariously by Roxy York, who shines in a supporting role as Julia’s eccentric, overbearing mother.
The five other main men in the band, unfortunately, are not given as much to do. Each has one or two defining characteristics — one is a profane alcoholic, another an impatient teacher — but feel underdeveloped, leading to a lack of chemistry and camaraderie between the sextet that often hamstrings the scenes of them all rehearsing together.
It’s easy to see why Blankenbuehler won a Tony for his dynamic choreography. There never seems to be a lack of motion onstage. Somebody in the scene, even if its a waiter in the background or a couple just passing by, is almost always moving to the music, creating a high-tempoed pace to the show.
Each transition between scenes is punctuated by soulful jazz and sharp swing choreography. Coupled with the period costumes, the dancing makes for delightful eye candy. The only thing to be disappointed about in regard to the choreography is that there isn’t enough of it — besides a few exceptions, there is a noticeable lack of big production numbers and the choreography oddly never seems to emerge from its complementary role.
The moments between all the razzle and dazzle are what truly elevate the show beyond a few hours of fun music and dancing. The acting and dialogue are superb, especially when it comes to the portrayal of veterans trying to readjust to normal life.
The show is “6 Certified” by Got Your 6, a nonprofit that works to get veterans more accurately portrayed in media. “Bandstand” earns this recognition through poignant moments of pure emotion and humanity, demonstrating that veterans don’t often feel like the heroes they are made out to be.
While a few nitpicks can be made — the lighting was sporadic throughout the entire show and the narrative wraps up too quickly and methodically — “Bandstand” is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking tale. Just like the veterans it looks to honor, “Bandstand” earns its stripes.