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.