In the online edition of today’s Wall Street Journal, I review Bandstand, a new musical. Here’s an excerpt.
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What does it take to lift a Broadway show from mediocrity to adequacy? I found myself pondering this question as I watched “Bandstand,” a new musical about a group of troubled World War II vets who return home to Cleveland, join forces to start a swing band and live happily ever after, or at least until the curtain falls. The first act is straight off the rack, a concatenation of bone-tired clichés strung together on an unexpectedly interesting premise. The second act isn’t any more original, but it’s more agreeable, and you’ll likely feel that you’ve been sufficiently entertained by the time the curtain falls….
What makes “Bandstand” interesting is that the principal characters are all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—the bass player, for instance, helped to liberate Dachau—and their singer is a war widow. “Bandstand” is, in other words, a variation on “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which is a great idea for a serious-minded musical, so much so that it’s surprising nobody’s ever tried it. (Are you listening, Michael John LaChiusa?)
What makes the first act mediocre is that the show’s authors, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, fail to do anything remotely original with their idea. The members of the band are all central-casting types (the spacey drummer, the boozed-up wisecracker, the school-of-Felix-Unger neat freak) whose PTSD-related suffering is stated ad infinitum but left unshown save in the cornballiest ways possible (they have combat flashbacks every five minutes or so). The show is set in motion by a plot point—a contest to write a song honoring the troops—that’s straight out of an old-fashioned hey-Judy-let’s-put-on-a-show movie. And the original songs, while perfectly professional, are also perfectly forgettable….
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Read the whole thing here.