'Bandstand' On Broadway Misses Its Swing

There’s a different “band of brothers” on stage in “Bandstand,” the earnest and often-entertaining musical that, set immediately following WWII, never quite achieves its noble ambitions. Despite the fluid staging and evocative choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler(“Hamilton”), an uneven book, undistinguished dialogue and only-serviceable tunes keep the show from meeting its deeper, darker and good-intentioned aspirations.

The band in question is the one that Donny Novitski (Corey Cott of Broadway’s “Gigi”) puts together when he returns home to Cleveland, following his combat service in World War II. Once a young hotshot on the music scene, Donny finds, contrary to the title of the opening song, that it’s not “just like it was before.” There are no prime gigs for this composer-pianist vet, as he repeatedly hears the empty refrain from those intent on only looking forward: “But we thank you for your service.”

That feeling of it’s-always-fair-weather American optimism denies the difficult details of the past, and it’s at the heart of the show, which joins “A Bronx Tale” as the second musical this Broadway season to originate at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.

A nationwide radio contest to find the best swing band in America  — with the promise of an appearance in an MGM movie for the winning group — gives Donny the idea (not to mention a sense of purpose) to form a band comprised of returning military men. Joining them as the group’s Gold Star singer is Julia (Laura Osnes, of Broadway’s revamped “Cinderella”), who happens to be the widow of Donny’ best buddy. As eye-rolling luck would have it, she also writes poetry whose stanzas work remarkably well in the band’s lyrically-impoverished tunes.