Two years after it ran on Broadway, the 2017 musical “Bandstand” is making its way across the rest of the United States on its first national tour, stopping for two nights in Santa Barbara. Choreographed by Tony Award-winning “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbueler to music by Richard Oberacker, “Bandstand” tells the story of GIs who start a band upon returning to America after World War II, and features a cast that sings, dances, and embodies that band by playing instruments live on stage. Starring in the show as the band’s trombone player, actor Louis Jannuzzi III told the News-Press that “Bandstand” not only provides an entertaining musical experience, but does so while depicting the struggles of war veterans.
“This show is also trying to bring light to the issue of what veterans go through,” Mr. Jannuzi said.
Taking place in 1945 after the end of the Second World War, “Bandstand” follows the story of Private First Class Donny Novitsky, who worked as a pianist and singer before joining the service. Upon returning home he discovers that the career he left behind is no longer there, his former music gigs now the work of other men. Eager to rebuild his old life, Donny assembles a band of returning GIs when NBC announces a national radio contest in support of returning servicemen, a competition that has a record deal attached for the winning band. As they play music together, Donny and his bandmates discover a purpose for their post-war lives and a way through the personal problems war has inflicted upon them.
Mr. Jannuzzi stars as Donny’s bandmate Wayne Wright, the band’s trombone player who the actor called “probably the most complex character I’ve ever played in my acting career.” A former marine who served in the war’s Pacific theater, Wayne is very regimented and orderly, which develops into obsessive compulsive disorder when he returns home. His desire to secure order in his life becomes so severe to the point that he ends up becoming disconnected from his wife and kids, creating the exact opposite of what he wanted.
“Because he is so obsessed with order and making sure everything in his life is not chaotic, it ends up causing chaos,” Mr. Jannuzzi said.
As an actor, Mr. Jannuzzi’s goal is to portray Wayne Wright as a “real” person with significant issues. He expects that audience members who are veterans or have veterans in their family will watch “Bandstand” and immediately relate to the predicaments Wayne and the other band members face. However, Wayne’s rigid orderliness and obsessive compulsiveness becomes eased once he starts playing music with Donny and the rest of the group.
“Being in the band is what frees him. Music is what gives him levity,” Mr. Jannuzzi said.
For Mr. Jannuzzi, performing in “Bandstand” is a huge step in his young acting career, marking his first time with a touring production. A musical theater major and history minor at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA., Mr. Jannuzzi graduated in 2017, the same year “Bandstand” ran on Broadway. Though first and foremost an actor and singer, Mr. Jannuzzi plays a number of stringed instruments like guitar, violin, and mandolin. He also plays one non-stringed instrument, the one that his character plays in Donny Novitsky’s band.
Though he played trombone for a number of years growing up, Mr. Jannuzzi stopped playing consistently when he got to college and only started again when it came time to prepare for his “Bandstand” audition. This tour marks the first time he has performed on the instrument since high school, and his first time playing it professionally ever. During the numbers where Donny Novitsky and his band perform, there’s no faking it from the actors.
“Everyone in the band is a live musician… All the instruments you see on stage, they’re the real deal,” Mr. Novitsky said.
When asked if it was difficult brushing up on the trombone after all these years, Mr. Novitsky said he didn’t find it hard to play the instrument and remembered all the notes and their respective positions. However, conditioning himself to playing the instrument through rehearsals between eight and ten hours long was difficult.
“It definitely was a challenge working up the stamina again,” he said.Tickets for “Bandstand” can be purchased online at www.granadasb.org. Both the November 19 and 20 shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Granada Theatre, located at 1214 State St.