Bandstand has been a standout this past Broadway season. With uplifting swing music, Tony award winning choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and an emotionally complex story, we’re sorry to see it close on September 17th. The cast of Bandstand has done a fantastic job of paying tribute to our veterans and accurately portraying the struggle of PTSD. Although it is a heavy topic, they also manage to inject joy and humor into the show, none more so than Brandon J. Ellis (aka Davy Zlatic, the bass player). We asked Brandon to talk about his experience with Bandstand and what he will miss most when it closes.
This was the first time you got to originate a role on Broadway, what has the experience been like?
When I moved to New York, the number one thing I wanted was to originate a role in a brand‑new musical, so to get to do this is a dream come true.
What is the best memory on or offstage that you will take away from Bandstand?
The best memory? That’s hard. I am going to have to say getting to perform in the Tonys. That was my first time getting to perform on the Tonys and being out on that Radio City stage with this cast, the people that I love so much, was just incomparable to anything else.
Over the course of the show, how has your understanding of the character and the material changed?
We did a ton of research into who these people are and what it’s like to be a veteran with PTSD trying to reintegrate into society. Obviously having already been an artist, I understood that part of it. We all have a brand‑new respect and understanding for the veteran experience based on our interviews with Got Your 6 and four in-combat veterans, and it’s informed the work greatly. As the material changed, it always changed to incorporate that more.
Most memorable stage door experience at Bandstand?
It’s probably when the vets were there and they would say, “hey, I am a vet,” and they want to talk to you about what the show meant to them and then to be able to take them backstage and speak to them about their personal experiences.
You take them backstage?
Every time. Every single time.
It must be emotionally draining, to have to talk to so many people who want to tell you their experience.
It’s the opposite. It’s emotionally energizing because these people, we are doing the show for them. We want to honor them. In fact, to have them come back and say you did is the biggest, biggest compliment we can get.
What is the story behind the bass toss? How did it get incorporated?
One day in rehearsal for Paper Mill, Andy [Blankenbuehler] was like, “Do something.” And I was like, I don’t know. He is like, “They are going to point at you; do something.” So I threw the bass in the air. And he was like, “Great, keep it,” and then I kind of forgot about it. When we started rehearsing for Broadway, we were staging “Nobody” and he was like, “this is where you throw the bass up in the air,” and I was like yes. I had never seen it done before, I didn’t get it from anyone else. That’s a Brandon Ellis original right there.
What is your favorite part to do in the show and what’s your favorite part to watch/hear?
When we are doing “Welcome Home Finale” and Joey [Pero] starts playing the riff off of Taps – every single night it gets me. It hits me right in the heart. That’s probably my favorite.
If you formed a real band with members from your Bandstand cast, what would it be called?
Oh, man. That’s a really good question. Well, the obvious choice would be The Donny Nova Band, but we can’t go with that. So I am going to say Corey Cott and the Nobodies. Nailed it.
What is the most interesting or worst job you ever had?
Worst job I ever had? That’s probably going to be waiting tables. I was waiting tables at a restaurant – while they did provide us a job and we were able to pay our rent, they were not nice to us.
Do you have any dream roles?
So many dream roles. I mean, Bobby in Company, Sweeney in Sweeney Todd. These are all roles I would love to play some day. I would love to play Leo Frank. That’s never going to happen.
And then, of course, plays. I would love to do Fellow Man, I would love to do Streetcar. I would love to do any Tennessee Williams I can get my hands on.
What lasting impression do you want Bandstand to leave on the fans and on Broadway in general?
I would want them to recognize and appreciate the redemptive and healing quality of music and how effective that can be for veterans, and then just in general to bring more focus to the veteran experience of reintegrating into society.
Transcribed by Yaffi // Interview has been edited for clarity