Boogie woogie bugle boys
Broadway producers have experimented in recent years to see how far ticket buyers are willing to explore beyond the story-and-song musical form mastered by Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Lowe in the 1940s and 1950s (and driven to something like creative exhaustion by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the 1980s and 1990s).
Lately, we’ve seen bang/clang extravaganzas like Stomp, Bring In ’Da Noise, Bring In ’Da Funk and Tap Dogs.
Also, there’s Contact—a story-driven dance piece, sans musicians. (The music, ranging from classical to pop, was taped.)
Now comes something slightly different: Blast, which the Broadway Series brings to Sacramento from December 27 through January 4.
Reduced to a simple description, Blast takes an athletic, young marching band of the sort that does spectacular half-time entertainment at football games, and mixes in a lot of choreography, lighting and visual stagecraft to make a theatrical event.
“It’s a celebration of instrumental music and outdoor pageantry, put in a theatrical setting,” said James Mason, one of the show’s creators. “It’s almost like a Disneyesque animation,” he said, but with real people onstage. “For years, musicians have been trapped in the [orchestra] pit [in Broadway shows],” Mason said. “They now act, leap and lunge.”
It doesn’t hurt that the musicians are 20-ish, well proportioned and working hard to entertain, with perspiration on their foreheads. Blast is not about pot-bellied, middle-aged folks sitting in chairs.
The press packet plays up the show’s heartland origins. Blast began in 1984 with a drum-and-bugle corps called Star of Indiana. After cleaning up on awards in that field, the group linked with the Canadian Brass in 1994 and then moved to the Midwestern mall of mass-market theater: Branson, Mo. The group’s gig evolved into the current show, which opened in London, rotated to New York and now tours North America. (There’s an offspring, Blast II, Shockwave.)
Actually, the idea of a marching/military band as theater entertainment is not new. England’s Band of the Grenadier Guards—red jackets; tall, fuzzy headgear; Buckingham Palace—has toured for decades.
There’s a world current at work here. Several numbers in Blast—like the trademark scene in which sweaty drummers wearing headbands wail energetically on snares—bear kinship to Japanese taiko. Taiko likewise springs from martial-arts origins and has earned a huge international following already—especially through theatrical groups like Ondekoza. Such groups, like Blast, feature limber, sexy performers of both genders, working in carefully staged shows with high production values. Who’d have thought it—East meeting West in pop entertainment!