Getting the message

If you follow me on Twitter (@elsiepod) you might have noticed I’m a wee bit excited about the Bandstand cast recording, which came out today. I’ve been listening to it and I’m on my third time around.bandstand-cover-new4

Obviously, I’ve been thinking about Bandstand quite a bit lately, since my last episode was an interview with Got Your 6 about their work with Bandstand. On that episode, Matt said that music helps the vets in the play heal from the traumatic events of the war. And that’s true, but in listening, I’m hearing a more complex message than what Matt and I talked about.

Listening to “Breathe,” I realized that it’s not exactly the music that heals. It’s making music. The distinction is small, I suppose, but my emphasis is on the work of making art. Because it’s not the music, per se, that helps them heal. Lots of people do use music to heal, of course. They listen. They dance. They use it as an escape or listen to lyrics that help them unlock emotions they can’t otherwise reach. And then there’s music therapy, which is another wonderful thing.

But Bandstand is about musicians. Musicians who set a goal and work toward it. Who have to learn to work together in order to succeed. Who spend their days practicing instruments, writing songs, and improving their technique and skills.

That’s meaningful work.

Similarly, in Groundhog Day [mild spoilers in this paragraph and the next one], Phil begins to find his way out of his loop by learning to play the piano. There’s not much he can do in his ever-repeating day that will have a lasting effect. He can’t build anything (it will be gone in the morning.) He can’t work on relationships with other people (they won’t remember the next day.) He can’t leave Punxatawney, and he can’t even build his body. What he can do is change his mental capacity.

Learning to pay the piano is the first real challenge Phil sets himself, and the first meaningful work he finds. In practicing and studying piano, Phil begins to grow as a human being, and it is that growth which eventually leads to his salvation.

Meaningful work.

Making art is meaningful work. Working toward a goal, developing relationships with co-workers, creating something that wasn’t there before. These things have been shown to help with all kinds of mental illness. They also help with recovering from trauma and adjusting to a new environment.

In Bandstand, the members of the Donny Nova Band learn to focus only on their work while they’re playing. “Breathe through the instrument, breathe through the end of the phrase/ And as everyone plays, it gets easier” Donny sings. He means to live in the moment. Concentrate on the work that needs to be done. Connect with the people in the room on the level needed to do what you’re doing. Exist. Eventually, you develop new habits of living–healthier habits that involve making something good with a group of people you can rely on.

And in doing this, your brain retrains itself. It learns that you can rely on the people around you. That you’re safe. That you’ll get regular rewards from succeeding, from meeting goals, from connecting with other people in a healthy way. And you get better.

I’m not knocking therapy or discounting the importance of medication. And I definitely think we should do more for our modern war vets who need help.

However, I am noticing a message rippling through Broadway right now about the importance of making art not only to get your message out (though that’s important too) but also because art heals (Bandstand, Groundhog Day.) Art brings people together (Cats, Dear Evan Hansen.) Working to help others improves your own life (Groundhog Day, Come From Away.) Work helps you develop and preserve your identity (Waitress, Sweat, Banstand.) And anything that gets in the way of creative expression is dangerous (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1984.)

It’s a theme. I’m getting the message, Broadway. And I agree with it.

Make more art.


Coming up on the podcast:

7/3: New York Musical Festival

7/17: Mardie Baldo: Gleek Goddess

7/31: Julie James (looking good) or Dean O’Connell (he’ll be on eventually either way)

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Episode 21: Got Your 6 on Bandstand’s portrayal of veterans

If you saw Bandstand‘s performance at the Tony Awards, then you know about the relationship between Got Your 6 and Bandstand.

When I read about Got Your 6 in Playbill, I wanted to know more. So I interviewed Matt Mabe, the Director of Operations at Got Your 6 about the organization, how they got

Matt at Bandstand

My guest has seen Bandstand three times! I am jealous.

involved with Bandstand, and what it’s like working on a Broadway show when you weren’t previously a Broadway fan. (He is now. Corey Cott and Laura Osnes will do that to a person.)

You can hear the interview here: https://elsiecast.podbean.com/e/21-got-your-six-on-bandstands-portrayal-of-veterans/

Donate to Band Together here: http://bandstandbroadway.com/bandtogether/


Coming up on the podcast:

July 3: New York Musical Festival

July 17: Mardie Baldo, Gleek Goddess

July 31: Julie James or Dean O’Carroll

Episode 18: Broadway Babylon

I talk to the adorable William Statham about Broadway Babylon, an online group dedicated to Broadway news and discussions. Listen to the episode here.

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The adorable William Statham

We also discuss our mutual love of Darren Criss, Bandstand, and Dear Evan Hansen. William loves Dear Evan Hansen more than I do, but then William loves Dear Evan Hansen more than most people love breathing. Witness his shrine:

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William’s DEH shrine. Listen to the podcast to find out how he got the arm cast!

You can find Broadway Babylon on Facebook.

Twitter: @bwaybabylon

Instagram: @broadwaybabylon

 

On Bandstand and white men

One of the first things that happened after the Tony nominations were announced this morning was that I received sympathy on the oversight of Bandstand by the nominating committee. I’m disappointed, it’s true, (Bandstand is one of my favorite shows of the season) but I’m not surprised.

I’ve been thinking about this since the New York Times review came out last week. That review, by Alexis Soloski, is mixed. Soloski loved Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, but disliked the production as a whole, finding its mix of joy and trauma unsatisfying. She also mentions the fact that the cast is mostly white men. And here, I think, is the crux of the problem.

I, too, was put off for a moment by this fact. In a post-Hamilton, post-Bechdel Test world, it is off-putting to watch a story that is mostly about white men. (Though I should be clear that the beautiful scenes between Laura Osnes and Beth Leavel do pass the Bechdel Test, even if they talk about men quite a bit.) I am no longer used to seeing that many white people on a Broadway stage, and I was frankly a bit put out by the male dominance in the show.

But then I thought about it. Bandstand is directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, who didn’t spend years working on In the Heights and Hamilton because he thinks women and people of color are irrelevant to the American experience. So why? Why does Blankenbuehler, who already has Cats up this season and who could work for the rest of his life choreographing just for Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail if he wanted, choose for his directorial debut to only cast white guys?

The fact that African Americans served in the war and then came back to unequal treatment, segregation, and the KKK is a scar on our history. That women rallied to fill in the factories while the men were away and then were asked to give up their independence when the war was over is a rallying cry for the Feminist movement and we should not forget that it happened, and that its legacy reverberates through history every time we debate giving Teachers, Social Workers, and Nurses the salaries they deserve. And the treatment of the Japanese during World War II deserves its own musical.

We know these things. They have been dramatized before and deserve to be dramatized again. And those who scream “Make America great again” discount those experiences when they suggest that America was great when more than half of the population was being oppressed.

What we don’t know, or have forgotten, is that back when America was “great,” there were men suffering. White men who served in World War II were told then, and have been told since, that everything was fine when they got back. They got their college educations and their VA health care and just picked up life where they left off.

Only we have never accounted as a society for what they went through in that war. We never helped them pick up the pieces from surviving D-day or what it feels like to shoot someone at point-blank range or what they saw–with absolutely no warning or preparation–when they liberated the concentration camps. We sent young men to face the absolute worst humanity has ever perpetrated and expected them to survive it with their psyches intact.

And now, finally, Bandstand is showing us what that was like for them. America was not “great” for the traumatized men who were told they were heroes but couldn’t find work to support themselves. America was not “great” for men who drank to forget. America was not “great” for men who suffered invisible brain trauma that stopped them from remembering what they had for breakfast, or men who became addicted to pills. And Laura Osnes is there to remind us that America also was not “great” for the men who never made it back.

Yes, this show is about white men. But right now, today, we are still sending young people–men and women who are now overwhelmingly poor and people of color–into the same trauma. And even the ones who look fine on the outside might not be fine on the inside. As a society, we owe it to them to help them set up lives when they get back, with jobs and health care and mental health care, too, because it isn’t an easy thing to pick up life again after being in a war zone. So maybe we need a little reminder of what happened to the white men after World War II so that we can apply those lessons to the veterans of today.

So I think that maybe Tony voters, faced with a stage full of white, male faces and a slate of new musicals the like of which has not been seen in my lifetime maybe didn’t give Bandstand the attention it deserves. Because they didn’t want to be “Tonys so white,” (though as usual, Broadway is pretty freakin’ white), because it didn’t feel universal enough, because Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is so completely awe-inspiring that you forget he directed the whole damn thing, too, because honestly, who would you take out of the Best Actor and Best Actress categories to put Corey Cott and Laura Osnes in? I don’t know what they were thinking. But overall, I’m not surprised.

I am *thrilled* that Falsettos got so many nominations though. And I’m excited that I get to see Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before the Tony Awards. I’ll review them over the next few podcast episodes.


Don’t forget that I have two active giveaways right now. Find my tweet and re-tweet it to win a Playbill from The Lightning Thief, Bandstand, or Dear Evan Hansen (your choice). I’ll keep giving away a Playbill for every 10 new followers I get until that gets boring or I run out of Playbills. I’ll pick winners on Thursday after I see Dear Evan Hansen and pick up a Playbill. (So far, I’ll be picking two winners Thursday. Care to make it 3?)

And tweet @Elsiepod using the hashtag #ElsieTour to win two tickets to a public Hamiltour from Broadway Up Close Walking Tours. You can use the tickets any time in the next year! Listen to Episode 15 of the podcast for more info about the tour.

Next week on the podcast: Curt Mega of Glee and Story Matters Podcast, and a special Warbler surprise giveaway from me to you.