Life

Broadway musical 'Bandstand' to perform in Cedar Falls, Des Moines and Davenport

Big band music and high-energy dance are in the spotlight in #x201c;Bandstand,#x201d; winner of the 2017 Tony Award for
Big band music and high-energy dance are in the spotlight in “Bandstand,” winner of the 2017 Tony Award for choreography. Set at the end of World War II, the musical swings through Des Moines on Friday (12/13) and Saturday (12/14), Cedar Falls on Sunday (12/15) and Davenport on Monday (12/16). (Jeremy Daniel photo)
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Whenever Roxy York hits the stage, she dedicates the show to a family member. “Bandstand” resonates a little more deeply than most.

Set at the end of World War II, the musical spotlights veterans’ issues. Not only does York carry a picture of her grandparents to honor them, she’s dedicating her performance to her sister, Jane, who is stationed stateside with the Navy. After spending four years in Washington state, Jane recently was placed back on their home turf of Long Island, which means she’ll get to see Roxy onstage there in March.

But don’t try to snag a ticket to the March 15 performance in Greenvale, N.Y.

“I’m sure it will be just my family — I think they’ve bought out the whole thing,” York said with a laugh, calling from a recent tour stop in Colorado Springs. “That should be a very exciting show.”

It’s a high-energy musical that won the 2017 Tony Award for choreography by its director/ choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who also won a Tony for his choreography in “Hamilton.”

“Bandstand” is a celebration, but it also explores the lingering emotional effects of war, rarely discussed when the Greatest Generation returned to America, lauded as heroes.

Audiences will meet Private First Class Donny Novitski, a singer/ songwriter from Cleveland, who is struggling to rebuild the life he left behind. When he hears of a national competition to find the next musical superstars, he and his military buddies form a band — and find their lifeline. Music becomes their salvation as they discover their voice and finally feel at home.

York plays Mrs. June Adams, mother-in-law of Novitski’s best buddy in battle, who died in combat.

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“She’s the mother figure in the show,” York said of her character. “And she’s great, because she does get to be quirky and fun and funny. I get some good punchlines, which is always a thrill. But I do have a song in the second act that I really cherish (“Everything Happens”). I find it to be a really wonderful moment, because it stops the heavy action, the go-go-go, and it takes a moment to help galvanize and recharge the heroine of the show. You’d expect a comedic character to sing a comedy song, and it’s a very serious, tender but strong moment. I very much appreciate that from the writers — that they were able to give each character such depth, and especially mine.”

Beneath the bouncy music and lighter moments runs a much darker undercurrent.

“World War II veterans came back with a lot of propaganda, like ‘We won, it’s great, and America’s amazing,’ with a lot of smiles and ticker-tape parades,” York said. “So I feel like those veterans never got the opportunity to share their experiences, and what they went through. It was just a very closed time in society. And the same for the women who had suddenly joined the workforce and then were suddenly removed from it, and weren’t allowed to express how frustrated I’m sure they felt, and how challenging that must have been.

The show “opens that Pandora’s box,” she said.

... It’s an emotional show, but it’s some of the best swing dancing you’re ever going to see. You leave tapping your toes and humming these incredible big band, swing, jazz, ’40s songs.

“But it’s not just victory rolls (hairstyle) and plastered-on smiles. It’s real depth. It’s talking about things still relevant.”

And it’s generating more audience buzz than York has seen during her pervious national tours with “Beauty and the Beast,” “Annie” and “Flashdance.”

“It’s been kind of unreal,” she said. “It’s been so incredible. I’ve never seen the audience jump to their feet like this — just because of how personal it is. ...

“I’ve never received this much fan mail, not about me, but fans reaching out and explaining their family history or their experience with PTSD, and how this show helped them, even if they weren’t a veteran. I can’t imagine I’ll have a repeat experience like this for a very long time.”

She’s following in the footsteps of her “pop-pop,” a World War II flyer tapped for the entertainment corps, taking standup comedy “to fellow servicemen who needed to laugh,” York said. Now she gets to pay that forward.

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“I’m always trying to thank my sister,” York said, and is thrilled to be able to do that “on a very public, national scale.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: “Bandstand”

• Des Moines: 7:30 p.m. Friday (12/13), 2 p.m. Saturday (12/14), Civic Center, 221 Walnut St.; $25 to $115, (515) 246-2300 or Desmoinesperformingarts.org

• Cedar Falls: 7 p.m. Sunday (12/15), Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, 8392 University Ave.; $30.75 to $80.75 adults, $25.75 to $65.75 youths, (319) 273-SHOW or Gbpac.com/upcoming-events/e-1004/bandstand.aspx

• Davenport: 7:30 p.m. Monday (12/16), Adler Theater, 136 E. Third St.; $40.50 to $68, (563) 326-8555 or Adlertheatre.com/broadway-type/bandstand/

• Show’s website: Bandstandbroadway.com/

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