Tuesday, April 18, 2017



The deliberately drab set by David Korins that greets the audience at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre does not exactly portend an evening of frivolity. Nor does a list of the main characters — six veterans of WWII, damaged either physically or emotionally by their war experience, and a young war widow, all trying without much success to return to normality. Donny Novitski (Cory Cott), a young piano prodigy/composer when the war began, can’t find regular work. Nor can he summon the courage to pay a promised visit to his best friend’s widow, Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes). When a nationwide contest is announced to choose a new swing band for a part in a Hollywood movie, Donny recruits five vets played by James Nathan Hopkins, Brandon J. Ellis, Alex Bender, Geoff Packard and Joe Carroll, to be in the band. All six men not only act, sing and dance, but really play their instruments. Julia, who turns out to be not only a fine singer but a talented poet, becomes their vocalist. Unfortunately there is too little time for the book by Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker to do more than briefly sketch the characters. Will this motley Cleveland crew win the Ohio contest and go on, despite many obstacles, to the finals in New York? Will they get there riding the Cleveland Limited in first class and stay at the Astor? What starts as a rather dark, unusual, nuanced story loses its edge and morphs unconvincingly into an upbeat, rather conventional crowdpleaser. The music by Richard Oberacker sounds jazzier than swing at times. With one powerful exception, the quiet numbers are better than the showy ones. Beth Leavel, as Julia’’s mother, has one lovely song. The dance numbers are not as enjoyable as I would have expected from the choreographer of Hamilton, Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directed. The costume design by Paloma Young seemed to have no consistent approach. There are enough satisfying moments that one wishes there were more. I really wanted to like it, but left disappointed. Running time: two hours 35 minutes including intermission.

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