By Joshua Ringler
There are moments in everyone’s lives that require reflection, grieving and a way to overcome. Broadway’s “Bandstand” at the Jacobs Theatre shows these moments in the lives of Donny Nova (Corey Cott) and Julia Trojan (Lauren Osnes). Nova, short for Novitski, survived World War II. Trojan’s husband, Michael, who was also Nova’s best friend in the trenches, did not.
The musical details Nova’s struggles with PTSD, displaying “ghosts” as fallen buddies, with lighting effects and pure emotion displayed by Cott. Both Cott and Osnes play their characters incredibly well, crying on stage, showing the rough emotions that we – and not even them – can truly imagine.
Through song and dance, specifically jazzy swing music, the two main characters form a band, “The Donny Nova Band featuring Julia Trojan,” that takes their home city of Cleveland by storm. Supporting characters Jimmy Campbell (played by James Nathan Hopkins), Davy Zlatic (Brandon J. Ellis), Nick Radel (Joe Pero), Wayne Wright (Geoff Packard) and Johnny Simpson (Joe Carroll) complete Nova’s band.
All of these men had served in different branches of the armed forces and made it home after the war. Yet, they wouldn’t go as far as saying they were lucky to be home. They had their baggage from the past that they could not shake off. Through alcohol, strict parenting and teaching, they barely managed to survive.
Nova’s goal was to win a competition that would take him and his band of brothers to New York to become famous. He embarked on a journey of self-discovery, pain and perseverance. All of his bandmates join this struggle with him, while they deal with their own vices and virtues.
Red, white and blue lighting reminds the audience that this show is not about truly fictional characters: There were people who fought in World War II who came home to fight against themselves. And there were people who defeated Hitler that could not defeat what was inside them. As veterans struggle to find employment, overcome what they saw and rid themselves of past demons, this show can take on a new meaning.
Through powerful numbers like “You Deserve It,” “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” and “Welcome Home,” this show speaks to an audience looking for an insiders’ take on life after war. Prior to the beginning, the announcer thanks all veterans for serving, deservingly so.
While these characters are portraits, surrounded by a minimal-yet-realistic set, visually-stimulating and Tony-winning choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Tony winner from “Hamilton”), the message of the show sticks. To forget your veterans after the war is like forgetting why our country sent them in the first place.
Without music, their struggles would have continued. With it, they survived.