Broadway musical 'Bandstand' cast to tell veterans' story on stage at Emens Auditorium

The ensemble cast of "Bandstand" performs a dance number to music from the "Donny Nova Band." The musical won a Tony Award for "Best Choreography" in 2017. Jeremy Daniel, Photo Courtesy
The ensemble cast of "Bandstand" performs a dance number to music from the "Donny Nova Band." The musical won a Tony Award for "Best Choreography" in 2017. Jeremy Daniel, Photo Courtesy

Ever since she was in fourth grade, actress Shaunice Alexander has been in love with theater. 

“I was introduced to a wonderful woman named Rhonda Cates,” Alexander said. “She came to our school and taught an extracurricular musical theater program, which is when I realized I could dance, sing and act at the same time. Ten-year-old Shaunice’s mind was blown.”

Now, Alexander will visit Ball State as part of the touring Broadway cast for the musical “Bandstand.” Alexander plays Jean Ann Ryan, a local radio announcer, who Alexander said is a “fierce woman.” 

“This is my first national tour, and it has honestly been both amazing and challenging,” Alexander said. “You’re traveling so much and finding the balance between the work, adequate rest and experiencing what each new state has to offer.” 

Across a soundtrack of 24 jazz songs, “Bandstand” addresses issues including alcoholism, addiction and PTSD, as it tells the story of World War II veterans returning home from war. To settle back into their lives before the war, the veterans form a band. With the help of their community, they begin their individual journeys toward healing. 

“One of my favorite songs in the show is ‘I Know A Guy,’” Alexander said. “I remember initially learning the music in New York. The ensemble’s vocal line is rhythmic, and dissonant and intricate … We staged it, [and] I fully realized how well the number introduces you to each member of the Donny Nova Band … The musical will certainly leave you humming the tunes and feeling even more connected to those who have sacrificed so much for us to have the liberties we do.”

“Bandstand” is a part of Emens' “Artist Series,” which welcomes between four and six traveling Broadway shows to campus each year. 

Emens’ assistant director of marketing and communications Kristi Chambers said the series allows students to experience new art and cultural opportunities and see nationally-renowned performances they otherwise may not have been exposed to. 

“I have always loved Broadway but have not yet had the pleasure of seeing ‘Bandstand’ in its entirety,” Chambers said. “The music and excerpts that I have seen are fantastic, drawing you into the story line, which is why I cannot wait to see this complete production for myself." 

Chambers said Emens is currently coordinating a post-show talk back with a few cast members the evening of the performance. 

“One of the cast, Sarah Dearstyne, is a graduate of Anderson University and is encouraging this talk back with students from both Ball State and Anderson,” Chambers said. 

Because of the musical’s “diligent and hardworking crew,” Alexander said, performing in a different venue every night has been easier than she initially thought. 

“I feel like the hardest part of any rehearsal process can be putting all of the elements together,” Alexander said. “You work hard to build a show in the rehearsal room, and sometimes the most difficult part can be moving forward and adding the costumes, set and lights to the equation.”

Although “Bandstand’s” story is geared toward veterans and their experiences, Alexander said she believes Ball State students can also relate to the musical’s “idea of encountering something that seems impossible to overcome” because college students “often have to work through their own personal growth to excel.” 

“I believe 'Bandstand' resonates so beautifully,” Alexander said. “Its lesson is ultimately one of love and learning that sometimes life’s hardest chapters can teach you the most about yourself and the people around you.” 

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at grmccormick@bsu.edu or on Twitter @graceMc564

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