By Skylar Raye Noyes
My newest obsession on Broadway is definitely Bandstand: The New American Musical! I was fortunate enough to see it twice, once in previews and a second time after it opened! It was interesting to see how the show changed from previews to opening. Not only does Bandstand have spectacular choreography and music, it also has an inspiring story! Donny Novinski, played by Corey Cott, is a World War II veteran who gets a group of fellow war veterans together to form a band that will compete in a Bandstand contest. Along their journey to the top, we watch them struggle with haunting memories of their experiences in the war and searching for the respect they deserve. The show’s leading lady, Julia Trojan, played by Laura Osnes, struggles with the loss of her husband who died in the war. She finds a new purpose singing with the Donny Nova Band and finds new love along the way!
The dancing in Bandstand was incredible! The show won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Choreography in a Musical! I loved how Andy Blankenbuehler (Director, Choreographer) and Mark Stuart (Associate Choreographer) were able to incorporate so much symbolism into the choreography. It was beautiful and captivating to watch. Even the simplest things, such as bringing a chair or piano onstage, were choreographed so that the movement could symbolize what the characters were going through. Along with the amazing dancing, the music was outstanding! Being able to watch Corey Cott sing “Donny Novinski” was a highlight of the show for me. He is such a captivating performer to watch! I’m also a huge Laura Osnes fan and I loved watching her sing “Love will Come and Find me Again.” She sings the song with so much passion and her voice is incredible! The real showstopper was “Welcome Home.” This song describes each of the boys in the band and how they are doing once they return home after the war. This song left me in tears. Bandstand is a memorable show and I learned a lot about what veterans go through once they return home from the war and the difficulties they face. I would definitely see it a third time!
I had the amazing opportunity to interview one of Bandstand’s cast members, Becca Petersen, before seeing the show! Becca is a swing in the show and also the understudy for Julia Trojan. She was so gracious to meet me before the show to answer some questions about her journey to Broadway. Becca also offered some inspiring advice for young people who want to pursue their dreams of a career in musical theatre! Here’s what Becca had to share with me and the Camp Broadway readers…
When did you begin doing theatre?
“I actually started in dance. I had two older sisters and they were big into musical theatre, so I listened to musicals while growing up. When I was about 10, my friend was taking a musical theatre class that had a “bring a friend to dance class”. I went to the trial class, loved it and stayed at that studio until I moved out of Indiana, where I am from. It was a dance studio but very musical theatre-based. I did musical theatre classes through the studio. Once I was in high school, I did show choir. It is very big in the Midwest! I got into that world, which is very interconnected with the same people. I got a lot of different opportunities in the theater world through show choir. It’s kind of what got me hooked!”
What is your favorite part about being on Broadway!
“I have so many favorites! It is my first Broadway show so it’s pretty exciting to be making my Broadway debut! It’s nice to be in the city I love and have been dreaming of living in for years and to have a job that I have also been dreaming of for years. Not a lot of people can say they are passionate about what they do and are able to do it everyday. I have been blessed with this amazing opportunity and going to work feels fun and exciting. I’m surrounded by people who are equally as passionate and are all working toward the same goal, which is really exciting!”
What is a swing in a Broadway show?
“I’m a swing in the show. There are understudies for principal tracks, the leads in the show, and a swing is an understudy for the ensemble. So I am not on stage on every night, but if someone in the ensemble gets hurt, goes on vacation, or needs to call out for some reason, the swing would hop into their track. The same thing would happen if the understudy goes on. There would be a hole in the ensemble so the swing would go there. It’s basically the show’s insurance policy is having a swing there so the show can always go on.”
What was it like to step on the Broadway stage for the first time?
“It was so neat stepping on stage for the first time. In rehearsals as the swings we just observe and write a ton of notes because we are not up in the action with everyone. So when I stepped onto the stage, it was the first moment of feeling ‘I am on Broadway!’ I am here and I am a part of this! That’s a feeling I will never forget, first time on a Broadway stage, dreaming as child, and I am here and I am doing it. Dreams are coming true!”
What are some challenges with being a swing?
“Challenges with a new show, with Bandstand it is an all original production, so it’s starting from the beginning. As a swing it’s exciting because there are a lot of changes being made and they are creating the show. So nothing is really set in stone, which is awesome because they tweak the show to get it perfect. It can be a little hard for a swing because I am covering seven different people. So in one rehearsal when a whole number that all seven people are in is changing, that’s a whole lot of work on the other end trying to catch up. It’s exciting and keeps the swings on their toes! We constantly have our mind working to keep up with it and make sure we are ready, and when we have to go on at a moments notice we will have the show at the quality it is usually.”
Is it hard memorizing all the different tracks you have to know?
“It’s challenging but it takes a certain personality to be a swing. It’s pretty high stress and you have to be able to have different parts of your mind working at different times. If you get the hang of it and can figure it out in the moment it’s very fulfilling and rewarding.”
When you were younger, did you ever think that you would be on Broadway someday?
“I have always wanted to do musical theatre since I was very young so have been taking all the prerequisites, if you could say, to make my way to New York. Yes in the sense that I have tried to be as prepared as possible, but getting the call that you are about to be in a Broadway show is unlike anything and you can’t really expect that because it’s a very hard business to be a part of. It was shocking and wonderful and I am glad I was prepared to take on this exciting journey!”
What advice do you have for young people who want to pursue a career in musical theatre?
“I would definitely say to be in New York City and working in the business whether it is on Broadway or in tours, regional productions, it takes a lot of confidence and self-assurance that you are prepared and ready. It’s a hard business to be a part of and you have a lot of rejection, but someone will love you, and you have to remember that no matter what people are telling you if you are confident in yourself and your abilities and talents, and what you have to offer, someone will say yes to you. With that you need to be prepared as possible, so getting in dance classes, voice lessons, acting classes are essential to being here on one of these stages in NYC. So work on self-confidence and work on the talents that you can change. It’s a business about other people deciding things for you, so if you make yourself as ready for an opportunity as you can then that part of the job is in your hands. My mom always used to say luck is when preparation meets opportunity and a lot of Broadway performers are there at the right moment and we are lucky because we are prepared when an opportunity presents itself!”
Do you get nervous and do you have advice on how to deal with nerves?
“I get nervous when I’m not feeling prepared. There’s a difference between being nervous and feeling adrenaline. It’s more thrilling for me if I know I am ready for the task and the part and show I am doing. It’s more of an excitement thrill. Once someone told me if you are feeling nervous about something, somehow try to turn it into excitement energy rather than fearful nervousness. Sometimes that’s just a little mind trick. For me it’s usually if I am prepared it’s exciting.”
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
“I will warm up vocally and physically and connect with the people around me. Having everyone get excited and having good energy amongst the cast is really helpful.”
Does the cast do anything together before the show starts?
“The show is about veterans and how they are coming back home into real life. The Bandstand cast has been circling up and someone will share a story or a name of someone who has served for our country, and it has been really neat to come together and say let’s do this show for that person. It has created a neat camaraderie and purpose for our show!”
A big thank you to Mark Stuart, from Mark Stuart Dance, for arranging this interview with Becca! Seeing Mark’s work on stage was truly inspirational. I can’t wait to see what he does next! For more information on Mark’s studio check his website www.markstuartdancetheatre.org
Also thank you to Becca for sharing your time and story with me and the readers of Camp Broadway. You are an amazing, kind, and generous person and so talented!
Enjoy your Bandstand journey!