Image courtesy of The National Theater DC Press
By Julianna Guthrie
The traveling tour of the Tony Award winning musical Bandstand opened yesterday night for a six-night-run at the National Theater in Downtown D.C.
The musical follows the story of a young man by the name of Donny Novitsky, played by Zack Zaromatidis, a World War II veteran returning home in search of finding meaning in his life again. This journey involves returning to his roots as a musician.
Struggling to find work, Novitsky hears on the radio that NBC is holding a national competition that will pick the best swing band to play in an upcoming film. He immediately sets out to form a band made up of all recently returned military vets from the war.
In the meantime, Novitsky is charged with looking after the newly-widowed and musically-gifted Julia, the wife of his close friend who died in battle. The Gold Star wife later joins the the ragtag team of war veterans on a mission to win the local competition and make the live broadcast in New York.
Before the theater doors even opened on Bandstand’s opening night, a crowd of excited audience members lined the streets. At the National Theater, the mood of the night was relaxed and sophisticated. Eyes were immediately drawn to the stage where the scene was already set. As the first glimpse of what was to come, the brick and wood combination structure resembled what could only compare to a smooth underground jazz bar.
As the lights dropped, the pounding of the drum picked up a smooth calculated beat. Audience members were brought forth into the action of the 1940’s. Soon, the drum was joined by the trumpets, the saxophone, and all of the other instruments and the audience couldn’t help but move along with the tune.
The costumes reflected the music that was being played: vibrant and colorful pieces.
Not only were standout performances given by the main cast, but the exuberant chorus members helped move the show forward. The dancers were the backbone of the show, as they not only performed swing, but were also the physical manifestations of the emotions that were playing through the band members’ minds.
The war veterans themselves were quadruple threats, as they impressively not only sang, danced, and acted, but also were charged with playing their own instruments live on stage as the events of the story unfolded.
Roxy York, who plays Mrs. June Adams, Julia’s mom, illuminated the stage with her performance. The character herself has a revolutionary role in the show as she transforms from a simple comedic figure to the leading voice of wisdom which is culminated through her “Everything Happens.”
The song that captured everyone’s hearts was “Welcome Home (Finale),” sung by Julia, played by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith, accompanied by the band members played by Zack Zaromatidis, Rob Clove, Benjamin Powell, Scott Bell, Louis Jannuzzi III, and Jonmichael Tarleton. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as the song exposed the struggles that have gone long ignored by the public. The chorus of the song is uniquely set to the beat of the taps.
This show bows its head to veterans everywhere as it offers a deep look into the lives of veterans who suffer from scars of the war. The most powerful point of the show was how through song these men were able to cope and move forward with their lives. These men were back in America, but music brought not their bodies, but their hearts and minds back home.
The New York Times commented on the show saying, “Bandstand is both a peppy celebration of can-do spirit and a more somber exploration of what American servicemen experienced when they marched home from World War II. It’s a great argument for why theater can sometimes tell a story more boldly and more viscerally.”
Bandstand is available for viewing at the National Theater through March 8. Tickets may be purchased at The National DC website.