For literally thousands of people, drum corps is a way of life. I have known since I was in marching band in high school and college 20 years ago that it was only a matter of time before this unique form of entertainment would made its way to Broadway or be presented in a similarly high-profile New York venue, thanks to its inherent theatricality and the response it elicits from the cult-like fans who follow the competitive shows from city to city.
Born out of a desire to escape the stale and boring Big-8, Big-10 marching style, Drum Corp International (DCI) and the "corps style" took off in the late '70s. All facets of performance, including musical selection, choreography, color guard, and drum-line, have continued to grow and evolve in terms of overall artistry and the mind-boggling skills and talents required. A few milestone moments in the artistic development of DCI would have to include The Madison Scouts' "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue," Phantom Regiment's "Spartacus," The Santa Clara Vanguard's "Phantom of the Opera," and The Cadets of Bergen County's "Les Misérables." As I told the friend who accompanied me to Blast! (he is now a convert), nothing else can quite compare to the DCI World Championship Finals; the level of technical difficulty, the colors, the precision, and the wall of sound that hits you are indescribable. And the young people--all below the age of 22--who participate in DCI (three divisions, 77 corps, close to 7000 performers) have a dedication that is truly phenomenal.
Blast! is co-produced by Star of Indiana, a drum corps that broke away from DCI and stopped competing recently to offer productions such as the one currently on display at the Broadway Theatre. (It seems that, with selections such as Samuel Barber's "Medea's Dance of Vengeance" in their repertoire, they were a bit too progressive even by DCI standards!) The cast of 60 is, with a few exceptions, above the 22-year age limit for DCI competition, but their skills are razor-sharp. The horn-line, playing terrific orchestrations by James Prime, sounds magnificent; the drum-line is an audience favorite throughout; and the color guard--which includes flags, rifles, sabers, and a host of other object that can be spun, tossed, and caught--takes your breath away at regular intervals. The company's perfection in all things, including some amazingly difficult choreography, is complete; there was not a single mistake at the performance I attended. (Note: The corps de ballets of both ABT and New York City Ballet would be humbled by the incredible precision of the Blast! ensemble; they should buy a block of tickets to see how it's done.) The choreography by Jim Moore, George Pinney, and John Vanderkolff is exciting, imaginative, and never lags for a second. Moore (a former principal dancer with the Georgia Ballet) does double duty as a performer, and his dancing with Jodina Rosario Carey throughout the show can only be described as thrilling.
Hugh Vanstone's lighting is inventive and completely in sync with the scenic and costume designs of Mark Thompson. James Mason's direction is fast-paced and expert. Musical highlights of the show include Ravel's "Bolero," Copland's "Simple Gifts/Appalachian Spring," Mangione's "Land of Make Believe," and Leuconas' "Malaguena."
Is it a musical? No. Is it theater? Perhaps not as you're used to it. Does it belong on Broadway? That will be for audiences to decide. But is it entertaining? Only if you want great music that will knock your socks off, thrilling choreography that will make you gasp, and lights and colors that will dazzle your senses. Drum corps has arrived in New York City. If you're willing to risk becoming an addict, run--don't walk--to Blast!