Roxy York keeps a photograph of her grandfather clipped to her script for the musical “Bandstand.”
“He served in the Air Force during World War II,” York said. “He later was pulled from the Air Force and was reassigned to the Army’s entertainment corps, and spent the rest of his tour of duty entertaining the troops doing stand-up comedy.
“I like having his picture with me, because it helps me connect even more with the story we’re telling,” she said.
“Bandstand,” which Celebrity Attractions is presenting for one night only Nov. 5, is about a group of World War II veterans trying to re-establish their “normal” lives now that the war is over and they have returned home.
The musical, by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, focuses on Donny Novitski, who returns to his hometown of Cleveland, determined to pick up his former career as a pianist and songwriter.
But Donny, like his former bandmates who also survived the war, is having a great deal of difficulty readjusting to civilian life. Then he learns about a contest — the National Radio Swing Band Competition in Tribute to the Troops, sponsored by a major radio network — and decides to gather his comrades together to give them all a new goal in life.
Things are complicated by Donny’s growing attraction to Julia, the wife of Donny’s best friend, who died in combat. Julia becomes the band’s vocalist, but long-buried secrets, and the struggle dealing with the guilt, stress and memories of the horrors of the war threaten everyone’s chance at redemption and happiness.
“We tend to think of the end of World War II as kind of glamorous — the ticker-tape parades, the music,” York said. “That’s a part of it, to be sure. But we don’t talk about the struggles that everyone had trying to assimilate back into society.
“And it wasn’t just the soldiers who struggled,” she said. “All the women who had gone into the factories and built the planes and all the other things they did, they were just as displaced and confused as to what they were going to do. Life for everyone was kind of turned upside down, and in our show, it’s music that helps people to heal, to let out feelings that society would prefer they kept bottled up.”
The musical debuted in 2014, and after a run at New Jersey’s acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse, opened on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for five months, earning director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) a Tony Award for his choreography.
Blankenbuehler later said working on “Bandstand” served as inspiration for “Remember Our Song,” the ballet he created for Tulsa Ballet that had its world premiere earlier this year.
York has the role of June Adams, the mother of the young widow Julia.
“I’m sort of the maternal presence in the show,” York said, laughing. “Actually, I find her an extremely accessible character, because we share a similar outlook on life. She loves to laugh, and she tries to handle everything with good humor and optimism.”
Another reason for wanting to be a part of “Bandstand,” York said, was to be able to work on a show that is close to brand-new.
“The show only ran on Broadway for a short time, and this is its first national tour,” York said. “So it’s really special to have the opportunity to take on a role that people have not been doing for five, 10, even 50 years. You can come in without having to deal with other people’s expectations of how a role should be done, which lets you really bring a lot of yourself to the character. There are no wrong choices you can make.”
York’s character doesn’t get to perform much of Blankenbuehler’s award-winning choreography, but she does get to witness it up close.
“Andy’s level of talent is just extraordinary,” she said. “This is some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen in a musical. Not a moment goes to waste — even the transitions into and out of scenes are choreographed to give depth and gravity to this story. It’s a thrill to be able to witness it.”