There’s a reason Andy Blankenbuehler has two Tony Awards—and now another nomination. The Bandstand director-choreographer demonstrates time and again his ability to convey a mountain of story in minuscule gestures and buried emotions in expressive dance.
Set in post-World War II Ohio, Bandstand paints the picture of veterans home from the war and their struggle to return to life “Just As It Was Before.” Donny Novitski, played by Corey Cott, buzzes with the drive to becoming a successful bandleader, and when he hears of a national contest to discover a band to play in a new Hollywood film, he assembles a crew of fellow veterans to achieve the dream he and his lost war buddy imagined.
There are layers of hurt, loss, fear, and hope to uncover in Bandstand, and Blankenbuehler spent years finding his way; he found it through dance. “The world is the lens that tells the temperature of who you’re looking at,” he says.
“I very rarely choreograph dance breaks,” says Blankenbuehler of his tendency to layer dance on top of dialogue, lyrics, scene transitions. “If you look at all the shows I’ve done, like ‘Battle of Yorktown’ [in Hamilton] has ten seconds of a dance break; it’s a five-minute number. Rarely do I say, ‘Let’s just do this completely without narrative,’ but whenever I do the idea has to be strong.”
Which brings us to the section of the song “Nobody” Blankenbuehler chose to teach in this video tutorial. The number, on the whole, feels autobiographical to the director-choreographer, knowing what it’s felt like to have someone tell you “You can’t” and that rebuttal of “No one is gonna tell me ‘no.’”
“The break that we did today, it’s gone through like ten versions, none of which I was happy with, until I really discovered let’s let this moment emulate Donny’s energy walking down the street,” he explains. “[Once] you have that crack that you can go through, then the storyline makes sense. As a choreographer and as a director it’s a constant thing to me to say ‘make this idea mean something.’”