A brash young musician returns from World War II impatient to restart his career. A lovely young war widow struggles to move forward two years after her husband’s death. This charismatic pair, played by Corey Cott and two-time Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes, come together in the acclaimed new Broadway musical Bandstand, an all-American story of love, loss, and healing.
This completely original show centers on a nationwide talent contest in which singer/songwriter Donny (Cott), widowed singer Julia (Osnes), and a swing band of World War II veterans compete for a chance at Hollywood fame. But there is much more to Bandstand than a 1940s version of American Idol. “The show uses the genre of swing music to tell the story of veterans finding their place in society,” says Cott, the fresh-faced star of Newsies and Gigi. “Meanwhile, there’s a complicated love story, because Laura’s character was married to Donny’s best friend in the war. Both of us are coming to terms with what we’ve lost and figuring out how to move forward.”
Osnes, a best actress Tony nominee for her luminous performances in Bonnie & Clyde and Cinderella, has spent almost three years on the development of Bandstand, including a well-received 2015 premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse. “There is nothing like our show on Broadway right now,” she declares. “On one end, it’s high-energy and swinging and fun; on the other end, it’s deep and emotional and inspiring.”
Cott and Osnes bring to life Bandstand’s slow-burning romance with a perfect mix of youthful longing and postwar wariness. Their palpable stage chemistry stems in part from their real-life friendship and remarkably similar backgrounds: Both are Midwestern (she’s from Minnesota, he’s from Ohio); both married young (she at 21, he at 23); and both made their Broadway debuts in demanding lead roles (she as Sandy in Grease, he as Jack Kelly in Newsies).
“If I could act with Laura for the rest of my life, I would,” Cott says with a laugh. “She is effortless in everything she does and extremely generous on and off stage. We have similar hopes and dreams for our careers, and also similar values. We found our spouses young, which in my opinion grounds you. There’s no pretense when we’re working together. We trust each other completely.”
For Osnes, who won raves for her Broadway romances with Max Crumm (Grease), Jeremy Jordan (Bonnie & Clyde), Santino Fontana (Cinderella), and now Cott, friendship is the key to good chemistry. “Corey and I have been pals for a while and do double dates with our spouses,” she says, “so when he got cast in Bandstand, I was thrilled. And he is phenomenal in the show. He learned to play the piano! I respect him so much as an artist.”
The band in Bandstand is, indeed, real, and Cott’s performance as a strong-willed pianist drives the musical scenes. “It’s one thing to act and sing for two and a half hours, but to add a skill like playing the piano? It’s the most terrifying, humbling thing I’ve ever had to do,” the young actor admits. “A lot of shows have a band on stage, but ours is truly essential to the story.” In the year between the Paper Mill Playhouse and Broadway productions, Cott took twice-a-week lessons and continues to practice three hours a day. Demanding, yes, but he observes: “I’ve learned an immense amount about who Donny is and why he’s so driven by studying the piano. It’s been an amazing character-development exercise.”
While Cott prepped to play a bandleader, Osnes honed her skills as a cabaret and concert artist. She chatted with Broadway Direct from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where she had just shown off her golden soprano in an evening of classic songs. “I keep getting cast in period pieces,” she says, citing Broadway musicals set in the 1930s (Anything Goes, Bonnie & Clyde),’40s (South Pacific, Bandstand), and ’50s (Grease), adding with a laugh, “I have never worn jeans in a show! Luckily, I love the period clothing, the hair and makeup, and I have the voice for this kind of music.”
In the case of Bandstand, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor’s original score combines propulsive swing music (with dancing to match by the show’s Tony-winning director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler) and gorgeous story-driven songs, including “This Is Life,” a new ballad sung by Donny and Julia. “The first time the band plays together on stage, the energy is palpable,” says Osnes, “and yet it’s balanced with quieter songs that transition seamlessly to a pit band. This is one of the most intricate musical shows I’ve ever done, but Andy has such a clear vision for bringing everything together.”
The broad appeal of Bandstand extends to military veterans, whose appreciation touches Osnes and Cott deeply. “I’m so passionate about the way our show honors veterans and tells their story,” says Cott. “During the Paper Mill run, a Marine vet actually yelled ‘Oorah!’ in the middle of the performance! Music becomes a way for these characters to express their pain and accept the truth of what they went through.”
As Osnes and Cott talk about their careers, it’s clear that beneath their warm Midwestern manners lies the determination of an old-school Broadway headliner. “This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 3 years old,” says Osnes, who, at 21, wrangled a day off from a show in Minneapolis to fly to Los Angeles and audition for Grease: You’re the One That I Want — a TV competition she eventually won. Cott was cast in Newsies just before graduating from Carnegie Mellon. “I was raised to be humble and work hard,” he says, “but I have faith that this is what I was born to do.”
Now, if only Meghan Cott, who is expecting the couple’s first child on April 28, doesn’t go into labor two days early, which happens to be Bandstand’s opening night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre! The excitement for Broadway’s most appealing young stars continues, on stage and off.