Which brings us to Blast! Some reviewers looked askance at this "explosive musical celebration" when it opened at the Broadway Theatre in April after stints in other U.S. cities and in London, but the folks out front are loving it. The show's twirling, flag-waving, drum-and-bugle-playing cast truly earns the standing ovations that can seem so perfunctory elsewhere. To find out more about the Blast! phenomenon, I spoke with Jim Moore, a member of the ensemble and a 2001 Tony Award nominee for his co-choreography of the show with George Pinney and John Vanderkolff. I also chatted with drummer Nick Angelis who, at the ripe old age of 27, is one of the cast's senior members.
"Basically, all of these people are very fine musicians," says Moore. "What we did was to help mold them into all-around performers as far as using their voices, learning how to stand, how to express things to an audience through movement. They all have great personalities, so it wasn't hard to get them to do all that. You just let them be themselves and heighten their awareness of how they affect people."
How did Moore and the show's creative team find young folks from all over the country who are phenomenally gifted in so many different areas? "Everyone has his or her strengths and weaknesses," Moore responds. "You build the strengths, work on the weaknesses, and kind of bring everyone to the same level. A lot of the people in the cast were already multi-skilled when we found them, and part of their audition was to show us what they could do--play the drums, sing, ride a unicycle, stand on their head and play the tuba, or whatever. In the show, we pretty much have everyone doing everything."
The youth of the Blast! cast--none of whom has yet reached 30, and some of whom are not even legal yet--might prompt the assumption that they're basically a bunch of mega-talented amateurs who've suddenly found themselves playing in the big leagues. Not so, according to Jim Moore. "I would say that 95 to 99 percent of these people have some kind of professional show business aspirations," he estimates. "This is their living. I'm not sure that, five or six years ago, a lot of them thought they would be doing a show on Broadway so soon--but you take the jobs when they come to you and they look good. Blast! has given them the opportunity to become professional."
Has the experience of Broadway been a shock to the systems of some of the younger, less worldly members of the company? "I don't know about them," says Moore, "but I'm shocked myself! I used to live in New York, and I still can't believe that I'm in a Broadway show and that I choreographed it. I was a struggling dancer for about three years here, so I'm amazed that I have this." On the other hand, Moore notes, "Most of us have been together on tour with the show for two years or more; we've performed at the Kennedy Center, in London, and on TV. Coming to Broadway was very exciting for everyone--but, on another level, it was just another gig. I mean, it is Broadway, and there's something so cool about that. But, by the time we got here, the cast had already performed in many different environments under lots of pressure. So it wasn't like everyone suddenly went, 'Oh, my God!!!' "
One of the most high-profile members of the Blast! company is Nick Angelis of Worcester, Massachusetts, who's been with the show since it first began touring in December, 1999. "We had a 20-week run in London," says Angelis, beginning to tick off the show's itinerary thus far. "Then we went to the Wang Center in Boston. We played Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago. We performed for President Clinton at the Kennedy Center Honors, and at the NBA All-Star Game."
Though his spectacular, high-intensity drumming is what gets Blast! audiences going, Angelis says he's hoping for an acting career in film and/or TV. "I've made a little headway," he says. "I've gone to a few different studios. The first one I went to was a casting director's place where they do workshops. They told me that I had a lot of potential, and to basically go away for a month and then come back. Then I looked around at a few different schools, but there's really only one that I'm interested in at this point: HB Studios, down in the Village. I'm on a waiting list to get into the class that I want. I haven't been to any actual auditions because I couldn't accept another job right now, plus the fact that my schedule is very busy with promotional events for Blast! There are weeks when I have two or three of them."
How have Angelis and his fellow cast members adapted to the Big Apple? "It's a big town," he understates. "There's a lot to do, and I think that people are adjusting to it at their own rates. I mean, we have 53 people in the cast with 53 different backgrounds. I grew up in a city of 200,000 people outside of Boston, so I'm fairly used to the city, but there are some people in our show who have grown up in towns with a population of 3,000. As for being on Broadway, everyone has a different way of dealing with the grind of eight shows a week and trying to stabilize a personal life. It can be frustrating. At the same time, it's comforting to know that we're in one place for a while and we can sort of call it home, rather than being on the road or in another country."
One definite plus about performing Blast! on Broadway is the proximity of other great shows. "A few weeks ago, I went to see Cabaret," says Angelis. "It was Gina Gershon's last performance. I also went to see Rent for the first time, which was amazing; the cast put out such a huge amount of energy. I'm trying to see different kinds of shows, to find out what niche I might be able to fall into as a performer."
Angelis notes that, because he is one of the oldest members of the company and has been with Blast! from the get-go, "I'm in a position of being an indirect leader of the group. I have an important job to do, night in and night out--no matter how I might be feeling spiritually, physically, mentally, or emotionally. For example, we had two shows yesterday; I went home right after the second show, wound down for about an hour, made something to eat, and then I slept for 10-and-a-half hours. My body was wrecked! Sometimes, you try to get up at 9am and your body just tells you, 'No!' I used run three to five miles a week and I was lifting weights--all of this while I was doing the show. The physical therapist I'm going to now told me not to do any extra exercise, which is frustrating, because I really like to work out."
One of the most charming things about Blast! is the ritual whereby the cast greets audience members in the lobby and outside the theater immediately following each performance. "I think that's what makes it all worthwhile," muses Angelis. "When a little girl or boy looks in my eyes and thinks I'm the best thing since sliced bread, it doesn't matter how tired I am. I've had people come up to me and say, 'Our son Johnny saw Blast! on PBS, and now he's started playing the drums.' That has happened numerous times. It's also great to see people 75 or 80 years old with tears in their eyes because they've been revived by the show, so to speak. I think Blast! brings out the kid in all of us."