It’s 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio, and World War II vet Donny Novitski is trying to make a go of it as a musician but struggling to find his niche. After hearing about a national radio swing band competition in tribute to the troops, Novitski puts together a band composed of war veterans and enters the contest.
This is the plot of Bandstand, a musical about the post-war reality for returning veterans as they try to re-assimilate into society. The play made its Broadway debut in 2017 and is now being performed in cities across the country. On November 19-20, Santa Barbarans can see the Tony Award–winning (for best choreography) show at The Granada Theatre, presented by Broadway in Santa Barbara.
While Bandstand is ostensibly about four lads and a musical dream, the plot’s underpinnings are the dire struggles each veteran faces trying to keep his PTSD at bay. For example, the band’s bassist, Davy Zlatic, played by Benjamin Powell, uses alcohol to drown his demons and humor to hide his pain. “It was a really challenging but substantial and fulfilling process to discover this character and his motivation,” said Powell in a recent interview with the Independent. “A major contributing factor to his addiction is that he was part of the liberation force of Dachau. I have not personally struggled with addiction, so I had to do some digging and research on what that’s like … but I have been to a concentration camp in Southern France, and I was able to draw from my experience visiting there.”
Although the subject matter can be dark at times, it is buoyed by humor, catchy songs, and a love story. The tour, which kicked off October 29 and is booked until next June, is “going very, very well,” according to Powell. “The show’s great, and we keep growing and expanding and developing [it]. And I think we’re all doing a really great job of keeping the show alive and fresh and new every time we do it.”