“Bandstand” highlights veterans’ post-war struggles

On Jan. 30, the hit Broadway musical “Bandstand” wowed a nearly sold-out audience in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre here at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “Bandstand” is a musical composed by Richard Oberacker, with book and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor.

Before every show at the Clayton Center, there is an announcement that is made for fire exits and proper audience etiquette. At the end of the announcement for “Bandstand,” the audience was informed that the show is dedicated to all the veterans in the audience. “Bandstand” specifically aims to highlight the post-war struggles of veterans after World War II.

The show opens with pianist, singer/songwriter and young vet Donny Novitski returning home to Cleveland, Ohio following the end of the war. As he’s finding his place within society, he hears about the National Radio Swing Band Competition in Tribute to the Troops on the radio and plans to form a band composed entirely of fellow vets.

Donny convinces saxophonist Jimmy Campbell, bassist Davy Zlatic, trumpetist Nick Radel, trombonist Wayne Wright and percussionist Johnny Simpson to join him, and they begin to rehearse and book gigs at local bars. After checking in on his fallen friend’s wife, Julia, and hearing her lovely singing voice, he also convinces her to join the band.

“The Donny Nova Band featuring Julia Trojan”— as they’ve self-titled themselves — ends up winning the first round of the competition and gets invited to a TV show in New York. Even though the band struggles to pay their way to New York, they still find a way there. Once they’re there, they play for the judges before they are allowed on the air.

As they make it through to the next round, they sign a contract, but Nick realizes the contract is an agreement to give the network the rights to the band’s hit song. As a way to stop the TV show from stealing and to do right by the real-world struggles of veterans across the country, the band decides to sing a different song.

This song tells the audience about each band member and their struggles, including Julia’s grief for her dead husband and her desire to help her new lover, Donny. After the song, it is revealed that the band did not win but became more popular because of their risky performance on the show, thus giving the show a happy ending.

One thing that set this show apart from others was the live instrumental performances of actors on stage. Members of the band in the show played their own instruments on stage for their songs, which is quite a feat. There was a small, live orchestra seated in the pit of the stage, as well, which played accompaniment throughout the show and helped to convey emotion when the onstage band wasn’t playing.

Along with the main characters playing instruments, the ensemble swing danced at all speeds. Amongst the cast members, many of them have several prestigious awards for their impeccable skills in fine arts, which made for top-of-the-notch dancing, singing and acting performances.

If you missed “Bandstand,” you can still check out other upcoming events at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “The Chieftains: The Irish Goodbye” will be coming to the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre on Feb. 14, and “Shrek: The Musical” is sure to be good fun for the whole family on March 27, 28 and 29. Tickets can be purchased at the Clayton Center box office or online at claytonartscenter.com.

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