A lot happened between the time The Bandstand closed at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2015 and its April 26 opening on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. For one, the title lost an article—it’s Bandstand now, as direct and to the point as the swing-era songs provided by Drama Desk nominees Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker. For another, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler—a Drama Desk nominee for his work here—and the creative team worked on the book, jettisoning songs and scenes and adding new ones. But the physical production itself? That’s been entirely rethought.
“We started over,” says lighting designer Jeff Croiter, now a Drama Desk nominee for Bandstand. “The set is 100 percent different.”
In this case, however, David Korins’ set isn’t the star of the production’s design—Croiter’s lighting is. Set between August and December 1945 in various nightclubs, boîtes, apartments, radio stations, sidewalks, and Cleveland homes, Croiter’s lighting must conjure up everything from a seedy bar to the kitchen of an Ohio mother.
“The first ten pages, we’re in five or six different nightclubs,” Croiter points out. “And lighting has to tell us something different about each one. In some cases we’re very strong with the choice, and in others very subtle.”
But eagle-eyed audience members (who aren’t too dazzled by the vocal and acting talents on display from stars Corey Cott and newly minted Drama Desk nominee Laura Osnes) might notice that as the story grows darker, Croiter’s lighting follows suit. Banding together to win a national song competition that seems to promise them fame, fortune, and a measure of the happiness that has eluded them since returning from World War II, Cott’s piano-playing Donny Novitski and fellow vets—along with Osnes’ war widow Julia—battle both their own PTSD and the fine print of contracts and contests. If MGM perfected the movie musical in the 1940s, Bandstand owes at least as big a debt to the decade’s other great contribution to cinema: film noir.
As Donny and company grapple with things as varied and complicated as insomnia, young widowhood, and addiction, the world becomes a darker, less friendly place. But Croiter never allows the central characters to fade into the shadows. “The darkness is around them,” he points out, “but they’re more enveloped. [Their lighting] becomes more saturated and more intense as it gets darker.”
For that, Croiter was heavily influenced by the artist R.J. Hohimer, whose paintings are riots of deep, saturated reds and blues—perfect invocations of smoky jazz clubs and late-nights. “The music scene has always intrigued me,” Croiter says. “And R.J. Hohimer, he’s ‘the jazz painter.’ I bought some really small prints and hung one of his on my wall, and as I was reading Bandstand I looked up at this print and thought, ‘Wow, that’s the world right there.’ It’s definitely evocative of this style.”
And thanks to Croiter, along with Blankenbuehler, Korins, and Drama Desk-nominated costume designer Paloma Young, that stylized era is currently delighting Broadway audiences eight shows a week.