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Beth Leavel connects to Bandstand
On Broadway, Beth Leavel has become a master of musical styles. She's sailed through everything from Golden Age crooning to power-pop belting, so it's hardly surprising that she's adding swing music to her repertoire. You can hear the results in Bandstand, which is now in previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Set in 1945, Bandstand focuses on the American home front following World War II, and it features an original score of big band tunes by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor. The story follows returning veteran Donny (Corey Cott), who forms a band with other vets and with Julia (Laura Osnes), the widow of his friend and fellow solider. Leavel plays June, Julia's well-intentioned mother, who watches her daughter's life change as she and the band try to win a national radio competition.
Leavel herself get several winning moments in Bandstand, including a comedic moment in the show's first act when Donny comes to the house for dinner, and a heartwarming second-act number, "Everything Happens," in which June pleads with her daughter to adapt to life's unpredictable – and sometimes unpleasant – changes.
"I get to go on the wonderful journey of taking care of her and loving her and hoping she doesn't make the same mistakes I did – and yet I've got also some really good laugh lines!" Leavel says.Leavel adds that this role hits especially close to home. "I am fascinated by the era that my parents grew up in. I remember taking the train to meet with my father while he finished basic training. And my mother is my inspiration for the character that I play." (You can see a photo of her mother in the behind-the-scenes video she made about the show's first Broadway performance.)
Leavel's spirit is affecting her cast members, too. "Not only [does Beth steal] the show every night with her flawless comedic timing and charm, she steals my heart with her genuine affection, inspiring strength, and contagious sense of humor," Osnes says of her onstage mother. "I couldn't ask for a better soul to work with every day."
Leavel has been part of the Bandstand team through its initial lab reading at Lincoln Center and its 2015 production at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. Asked why she's remained invested in the show, she remarks how impressed she is with Oberacker and Taylor's ability to portray the uplifting power of music. "It's one big arc of joy," she says.
She's equally ebullient when discussing choreographer-director Andy Blankenbuehler, fresh off his Tony-winning choreography in Hamilton and his work in the current revival of Cats. "Andy's choreography is a gift," Leavel says. "He really explores how beautiful music is through dance. While I do a little bit of dancing in the show, what I really love is just watching the dancers absorb what he says. He doesn't even use words, and they do it. It's like going to class for me."
For Leavel, Bandstand underscores the important role that music plays in salving spiritual wounds. "This show captures the spirit of the era and how music heals us," she says. "These soldiers that return from World War II reconnect to their souls and find their love of life through their love of music."
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for Bandstand. Go here to browse our current offers.
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Top photo – of Laura Osnes and the cast of 'Bandstand' – by Jeremy Daniel.