Broadway is making a stop in Charleston this month and swingin’ audiences back to 1945. For one night only, theater-goers will be able to catch the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Bandstand at the Gaillard Center. Happiness, sorrow, song, and swing round out this touching and historically accurate musical centering around the second World War.
Created by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, the story of Bandstand follows soldier Donny Novitski returning home in 1945 and struggling to transition to civilian life after the war. Eventually he finds his calling when NBC announces a radio competition to find the next great band. A songwriter and performer himself, Donny gathers a group of fellow veterans to create a band for the contest. During the competition they find a new purpose in postwar America as they learn how to overcome and deal with the lasting trauma of war.
The concept for the musical came from a central question: “What would veterans who came back from that experience, with all the emotional challenges they would be dealing with, and, if they were musicians, what would they need to make themselves feel back at home in society again?”
From the start, Oberacker and Taylor teamed up with award-winning Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler to create the show. “I had been looking for a piece to do about World War II,” Blankenbuehler says. “I’m really passionate about the 1940s and passionate about that generation of Americans, and all the sacrifices made because of war.”
Topics such as grief, survivor’s guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder (a term that didn’t even exist at the time) are explored through song and dance. “WWII veterans didn’t understand what it was they were grappling with, because there was no vocabulary with which to even begin to address it,” Oberacker says.
In order to accurately portray the experience of WWII veterans, the group worked with Got Your 6, (the name is derived from a military term which means “got your back.”) The nonprofit organization works with film and television projects to advise them on accurate portrayals of military veterans and aims to help productions avoid common stereotypes associated with servicemembers.
The organization connected Oberacker and Taylor with veterans to look over the script and help them figure out the most accurate way to share the experience of being a veteran on stage. Bandstand was the first theater production to be “6 Certified” by the organization for its accurate veteran portrayals.
With a score inspired by swing music, the show brings together the dark topic of war and the popular musical genre at the time to create a whole new experience using song and dance as a kind of coping mechanism. “I found the story about art healing the soul the way in,” says Blankenbuehler. “So, for these men and these women, yes, they were dealing with these deep, deep, deep wounds. But the story that I want to tell is, there is a way out. There is a way forward.”