A Track-By-Track Look at the Bandstand Cast Album

Special Features   A Track-By-Track Look at the Bandstand Cast Album
Composers Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor provide commentary on the Tony-winning musical's newly released original Broadway cast album, starring Laura Osnes and Corey Cott.
Laura Osnes and cast Jeremy Daniel

To celebrate the digital release of the Bandstand original cast album on iTunes, Playbill asked the show's composers, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, to break down the recording track by track, from the catchy "Nobody" (which the company performed on the Tony Awards) to the shattering finale "Welcome Home." Read their comments below!

The first motif you hear is a version of the famous Gene Krupa drum pattern—a key component in the soundscape of the show. It invokes Donny’s memories of the battlefield, and its driving rhythm both haunts and propels Donny at his core. The filmic/symphonic scope of the prologue, orchestrated by Greg Anthony Rassen and Bill Elliott, slams immediately into a period up-tempo song that soon reveals itself as a powerful piece of propaganda. We’ve captured virtually the entire opening arc of the show on the recording, to give the listener a sense of Andy Blankenbuehler’s fluid and cinematic staging, as the story moves from location to location on David Korins’ unit set, using only the positions of the actors and Jeff Croiter’s masterful lighting for transitions.

This piece truly dives into the sound of the period, and Greg’s arrangement along with the orchestrations put you squarely in 1945. Corey Cott’s performance is just fantastic—you hear his desperation and the sheer force of his will power. Bandstand is intentionally built on traditional story beats and tropes of the great MGM movie musicals of the ’40s, but approached from a contemporary perspective and honoring the truth of the circumstances. Radio was a constant presence in American life in the ’40s, a vital source of information, a lifeline, but also a powerful instrument of propaganda and escape from reality. Donny’s desperate willingness to buy into the promise of a radio contest gives an indication of where the show will go as it exposes these tropes for what they really are.

Once again, we have preserved nearly this entire sequence on the recording, including the interstitial vignettes. It shows just how fluid Andy’s staging is as it builds momentum and energy. David Kreppel’s vocal arrangements in this track are terrific, especially the counterpoint buildup at the end right before the band plays live onstage for the first time. As wonderful as it is on this recording, in the theater it’s absolutely thrilling.

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This song was specifically written in Donny’s voice, both musically and lyrically. It’s important to remember that he has written the song as a possible contender for the radio contest, and so it must adhere to certain criteria. But also, it offered us a chance to have the lyric echo the dramatic circumstances of this band of vets returning home and reveling in a celebration of their service.

This number in the show was the result of Andy dreaming of ways to dramatize the internal emotions of the veterans as they try to reintegrate into civilian life. Remember, this story revolves around a generation of men who simply didn’t talk about what they had experienced in the war and the feelings they carried back home with them. Andy has choreographed a glimpse into their daily routine that very quickly escalates in tension and anxiety, all of which is represented and accentuated by a corps of athletic male tap dancers. The juxtaposition of the hot swing arrangement and the mounting panic is something that can only truly be appreciated in the theater. But the inclusion of this track on the recording celebrates the amazing talents of our orchestra musicians.

Laura Osnes simply shines in this piece. And listen to the depth of her voice here, her emotional choices. We have taken the classic movie musical moment of the ingenue’s introduction song and asked her to speak to some very transgressive issues. The character Julia grapples with the guilt of resenting the weight and isolation of public pity and sympathy that comes with being labeled a Gold Star Wife. She’s speaking truths that were forbidden to even whisper at the time. This recording brilliantly captures the nuances of Laura’s portrayal of a young war widow—it’s the very essence of what Bandstand is all about in one performance.

Including this track was important to us. There are crucial storytelling techniques in this musical that are not text based. On stage, each member of the newly formed “band of brothers” is rehearsing in isolation in the middle of the night, and their musical lines interlock into the accompaniment of a “Pie Jesu” that Julia is singing in church. The visual impact of Andy’s choreography and staging is breathtaking. This is a moment that has been talked and written about quite a bit: each veteran musician moves around the space while shadowed by and literally weighed down by the bodies of other fallen soldiers. As these images melt into the image of Julia singing in church, it pulls you deeply into the contemporary vocabulary of the show.

We’ve included just the tail end of the scene between Donny and Julia. And here we get a taste of Beth Leavel’s comic genius. Beth plays Julia’s mother, Mrs. June Adams. But listen to the subtle anxiety in Beth’s voice—yes, it’s excitement, but it’s also desperation. Beth knows that great comedy comes from tragedy. It comes from tension and release. Beth is a masterful show-woman, but she is an even greater actor. This quick little cut brilliantly sets up the dichotomy of her character that is exposed in her Act 2 song “Everything Happens.”

This dramatic moment required we write a tune that the characters considered a “standard.” So for something to be considered a standard in 1945, it would have had to be written sometime around the early 1920s. That’s a very specific style of writing both musically and lyrically. But we also used the opportunity to have the lyric echo the actual dramatic moment in the plot, so there is a “double event” happening in terms of storytelling. We’ve also captured the “breakdown” of the number on the recording, just as it happens on stage, and it’s re-arrangement in real time into an uptempo swing.

You can learn a lot about a person by how they rehearse. This sequence delves into the Donny Nova Band trying to put together yet another possible contest song. Onstage it’s a delight with Andy’s staging, not only because of the inventiveness of moving from vignette to vignette, but all the detail work the actors are doing physically to express their emotional journeys and their bonding.

Of course this track is meant to follow track 10 as one seamless piece as it exists in the show. And we have preserved the entire sequence, dance breaks and all. The Donny Nova Band onstage meshes perfectly with the pit orchestra here for the first time to create an expansive sound that raises the roof. And Greg’s arrangement, along with both Greg and Bill’s orchestration, is perfection. Yes, it’s a straightforward swing tune that Donny has written as a contender for the contest, so there’s little in the way of deep philosophy here. But turn it up and listen for the way the musicians tear into their parts. Andy has specifically directed the entire company to use this tune to work out their aggressions, passions, and unspoken emotions. Again, it’s what’s beneath the surface of something seemingly familiar that makes Bandstand what it is.

We’ve included this sequence because it’s so delightful—with a fabulous dance arrangement by Greg - and it puts the listener in the world of the radio contest, dropping them right into the middle of the excitement as listeners would have experienced it in 1945 through their radios. Fun fact: Yes, Jean Ann Ryan is a real person (a producer) but the character is not based on her personally; we just love the sound and cadence of that name.

In the course of the story, this song is the first collaboration between Donny and Julia. The lyric is a poem Julia has written in an attempt to understand where she is on her journey with grief. And Donny sets it word for word to music. Several things are at play here that are important to remember and make seeing the show all the more impactful. We see a classic MGM movie musical moment, with the chanteuse singing a torch song in front of her swing band. We see the traditional American talent contest for instant fame and fortune. We see the “girl meets boy” collaboration where she’s the poet muse and he’s the inspired composer. But here’s why it’s all different, and why seeing the number performed live makes all the difference: Julia’s poem is one of private grief, and a wish for the ability to move on and perhaps find happiness again. It was never meant to be set to music. Donny’s music is born out of his need to assuage his survivor’s guilt, as Julia’s husband was his best friend in the war. Up to this moment, Julia was only a backup singer, never the lead or the star, and Donny has had to sublimate his need for the spotlight for the greater good of the band and what the song requires. And all of this is being played out live on air. We see Julia grow into being a star in real time, as she loses herself to the intimacy and confession of her own lyric. The looks exchanged between Laura and Corey’s two characters during this song speak volumes. Andy has staged in one torch song a three-act play, with Laura’s character simply standing at a microphone and finding her voice in front of the world.

Here the opening moments of the show fall into place and context for Corey’s character. HIs performance on this recording is so raw—yes, he cries, and yes that’s the take we kept. This orchestration is so full of colors and surprises that it’s almost overwhelming, which is appropriate because Corey’s character is so overwhelmed at this moment. Listen to those harmonies at the end created by our incredible vocal arranger, David Kreppel. There is so much going on emotionally beyond the lyric. It’s in the circumstance and all the things these guys can’t say out loud, and Greg, Bill, and David have told that story for them.

Yup, this is the one from the Tonys. It’s just a fight song, pure and simple. It’s in Donny’s voice, and it’s just one big “eff you” to anyone that stands in his way. We’ve included the entire dance break by Greg. Turn it up. It’s kinda catchy. So when you see it in the theater, go ahead and sing the chorus back at the stage—we're sure they won’t mind.

This little cut is the applause transition directly out of “Nobody.” It’s an awesome collaboration between Greg and Andy. The sound feature for the last part is done with Joe Carroll’s character drumming with sticks on the strings of Brandon Ellis’ bass, while Brandon’s character plays the bass one handed. The other hand is busy chugging a beer bottle…

Lyrically, this tune is a collaboration between Donny and Julia. So the charm of it comes out of their playfulness with each other. The arrangement by Greg is perfect as the montage zips from location to location in Andy’s staging. Most of the interstitial vignettes are included in the recording as we learn even more about the guys in the band.

We’ve got a big emotional swing here. We’ve included some of Laura’s lines into the song for context and it really helps put you in Beth’s frame of mind. You need to understand what she’s responding to. Beth is incredible here. She treats it as the sung monologue that it is. It’s plain and direct honesty. The moment is a template straight out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, where the wise maternal figure comforts the ingenue, but we’ve just told the truth. There are no uplifting anthems that can speak to what Laura’s character is experiencing. Beth’s character sees no point in indulging in platitudes. Life is tough. Life isn’t fair. But listen to how Beth delivers that last line. It’s so simple, but she fills it will so much life experience and pain. The instrumental sequence that follows is another brilliant piece of Andy’s staging. Laura watches silently as her fellow band mates move around her lost in their own struggle to find healing and peace. The flugelhorn solo is played by the character of Nick Radel on stage, and it’s a beautiful moment of recognition and awakening for Laura’s character.

This sequence was a challenge to record because so much subtle plot is wrapped up in it. Bottom line is that you’re hearing the creation of the poem Julia writes and how it inspires Donny to compose the song “Welcome Home.” The gentle swing version Laura sings after the sweeping orchestral interlude is her re-written version with a wistful, romantic lyric appropriate for their last performance at the VA Hall before going to New York.

Almost every note of this arrangement and sequence is recorded here. The orchestrations are an homage to the classic MGM musicals, but with plenty of fresh and inventive theatricality. The sound expands here, just as the set expands and flies out to reveal a glamorous deco representation of the New York of Donny’s imagination. But again, it’s not all homage or pastiche. Listen to David Kreppel’s vocal counterpoint over the return of the famous Gene Krupa drum break. Listen for all those story points coming together, and hear how Andy has taken the moment to something that is deeply personal for Corey’s character.

Once again, we’ve taken what appears to be a movie musical moment but turned it sideways. Laura and Corey are perfection in this take—you hear how conflicted they are, and it’s so intimate and breathless. But they must honor the givens of the circumstance. It’s still too difficult for them. Watching them play this moment live is so moving—not to mention ridiculously sexy.

Most of the dialogue leading up to the vocal is preserved here, which is thrilling because so many pieces of Corey’s journey come into place in this moment. And just listen to that high note before the big orchestra sweep at the end. Good Lord!

OK, here’s the truth: For this song to be fully appreciated you need to experience it in the context of the show. There’s no question that this recording is amazing. Laura’s performance is heart-stopping and raw and brave. Turn it up and take the ride. But here’s why you need to come to the Jacobs Theatre where Bandstand is playing. When you experience the show, you actually go on the complete journey of the creation of this very song. We spend the evening showing you piece by piece what the song is made of: who it’s about and why, the poem that is written about these people, the song that is composed to the poem, the song that gets deconstructed and re-written to be palatable, and then, finally, the final version of the song, re-constructed. And you need to know that they have been taken advantage of by this contest and its producers. And you need to know they are fighting back by singing this song and not the song everyone thinks they will sing. And they are live on air to every living room in America singing the most truthful and painful details of their personal experience. And they have to sing fast, before anyone pulls the plug, so it’s full of rage and sympathy and vitriol and vulnerability all at once. It’s an impossible feat. And so much of the thrill of seeing it live is knowing all those things, and knowing there’s no way these guys and this woman are going to pull this off. But they do. You are in the audience and experiencing the broadcast in real time, and you are watching them take down this contest and take down the propaganda machine and take down every limp and insincere “thank you for your service” that ever was. This is where they smash the clichés. This is where the band takes its stand, and the musical earns its title.

A slightly cut down version of this coda scene is preserved here. It’s a year after the contest and it slowly but surely dawns on the audience that the members of the Donny Nova Band have become real and genuine stars. It’s a lovely way to end the evening because they redefine success on their own terms. They don’t win the contest. They don’t play by the rules. They don’t fit the mold that everyone else wants them to. They tell the truth and their fans fall in love with them because of that. The dance arrangement is fabulous of course, and Andy gives you one last taste of his Tony-winning choreography. But it’s not just a meaningless “mega-mix.” Andy worked very hard with the entire cast at this moment to make sure that they were dancing and playing with a real drive and defiant commitment. You hear and see them working out their aggressions and their passions. It’s a release, but one with tension as opposed to a release of tension.


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