The new musical Bandstand might at first seem retro: It's the story of a young vet who comes home to America in 1945 in the months following the end of World War II to enter a national swing band radio contest (the prize: a feature in an MGM movie musical), with the glam costumes and swinging sounds to match. But as the show's co-creators and stars explain on this week's Billboard on Broadway podcast, there's plenty that's not only contemporary, but timely, about Bandstand.
Though the kind of radio contest that protagonist Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) and the young war widow (and love interest) Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) enter may be a thing of the past, its promise -- instant stardom based on the power of a performance -- feels reminiscent of shows like American Idol and The Voice, the team agrees. "Talent contests and instant stardom have been a part of American culture since…the beginning of American culture," says co-writer Richard Oberacker. "Everything happening now was happening in a gentler form then."
Osnes recalls her own experience with contests of this sort: she first came to fame as the female winner of Grease: You're the One That I Want!, the NBC reality competition in which actors vied for the roles of Sandy and Danny in the 2007 Broadway revival of the show. "I was 21," she recalls, "and I'm often reminded of that as well. Obviously it turned out to be an amazing experience for me and put me on the map -- I've wanted to be on Broadway since I was three years old."
Discussing the balance of modern and traditional influences in the show, Oberacker says, meant that he and co-writer Robert Taylor needed to "study the time period, and then you just have to live in it. The whole purpose of Bandstand, in a way, is to take this era and some of the traditions of the Broadway Golden Age and say, 'What would be the truth behind it? What were the people who really had to do this really going through?'" He calls that process a doorway into using a "contemporary vocabulary" that modern audiences could connect with.
In their conversation with host Rebecca Milzoff, Cott and Osnes go on to describe the experience of performing in a functioning band onstage (Cott actually plays piano), the performers they looked to for inspiration, and the experience of working with director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton's Tony-winning choreographer). Bandstand opens April 26 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.