If you exit stage left at Broadway’s “Bandstand,” you’ll see a stunning wall of veterans. It is a fitting backdrop to a play that is dedicated to honoring our nation’s heroes. That’s what separates “Bandstand” from other plays in New York.
Directed and choreographed by Tony award winner Andy Bluekenbuehler, “Bandstand” tells the story of six veterans struggling to reenter civilian life after World War II. Each character is haunted by ghosts – be it their addictions or the friends they lost in battle. I spoke with the show’s star, Corey Cott, last week and he told me to expect a show that does not give veterans the “MGM treatment” – in other words, Bandstand does not sugarcoat what veterans face every single day. To put it another way: Rosy, cheerful ballads like “New York, New York” won't be featured in "Bandstand."
The cast and the production team of “Bandstand” took pains to get every detail right, becoming the first Broadway show to ever earn certification from the group Got Your 6, a campaign dedicating to promoting projects that accurately depict veteran life.
The "Bandstand" cast veterans' wall. Each cast member is connected to a veteran in some way.
The result is a heart-wrenching, realistic tale. I went to see the play last Thursday and before the curtains went up the narrator asked the audience to applaud any veterans in the audience. Then, the stage was set.
When they return home, the veterans in “Bandstand” don’t exactly find a freshly pressed red carpet. Struggling to make ends meet, they decide to form the Donny Nova Band, led by Donny Novitski (Cott) and enter an NBC talent contest. Yet, even when they pass the preliminary rounds, they still find themselves being treated unfairly by TV executives who seem to be using them for good TV. Cue a few poignant speeches from the actors who insist they’ve done plenty for this country and deserve a little more respect or even a simple helping hand. As Cott noted during our conversation, the play demonstrates how our country certainly could have treated our veterans a little better when they returned from the battlefield.
In no way is this play old news, however. The message resonates today, as veterans continue to struggle with PTSD, depression and addictions to drugs and alcohol. In fact, Tuesday marks PTSD Awareness Day, a chance for communities to educate themselves about the condition. As Paul Greenwell, the LFS At Ease clinical supervisor and an Army National Guard member, noted, PTSD is not a weakness - it is "the body’s way of dealing with extraordinary circumstances."
In a few of "Bandstand's" especially moving scenes, ghosts of men who died in the war follow the veterans who made it home, providing audiences a visual of how our veterans struggle with survivors’ guilt.
I spoke with Cott again after the show and we agreed that honoring our veterans is something every American – regardless of age, ethnicity or political affiliation – can get behind. He showed me the veterans’ wall which features his father, who was an Air Force One pilot.
Meeting with "Bandstand" star Corey Cott backstage after the show.
Come for the catchy tunes and Tony award-winning choreography, stay for the beautiful two-hour tribute to our deserving veterans. Tickets here.
Read about how else you can help our veterans on this PTSD Awareness Day.