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The Wind



It's fun, a 'Blast!' (but it's not theater)
Wendell Brock - Staff
Thursday, February 14, 2002

In 1984, when Bloomington, Ind., businessman Bill Cook founded the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps, it didn't amount to much more than an oompah-oompah. Last year --- when it became the Broadway oddity "Blast!" --- it caused the Tony committee to coin a new award: Best Special Theatrical Event. 

Now "Blast!" --- a 54-member brass, percussion and flag-waving ensemble with a razzle-dazzle spin on the tradition of the halftime show --- has come to rock the Fox Theatre through Sunday. Like "Stomp," "Riverdance" and "Tap Dogs" before it, artistic director James Mason's "Blast!" is a crowd-pleasing, over choreographed spectacle that says a thing or two about the state of entertainment today: Crazed for youth and beauty. Mad about loud. The gee-whiz factor is everything to this show. But to call it "theater" would be tantamount to blast-phemy. 


 "Blast!" takes the tunes of Ravel, Copland, Barber and others and brass-tardizes them into what appears to be the world's largest game of musical chairs, played out against a "Hollywood Squares"-like stack of percussion-packed sets. What begins as a single drummer announcing the beat of "Bolero" turns into a mishmash of musical idioms (techno, New Age, jazz lite and world) and Starburst flavors and costumes. There are color-coded segments ("Color Wheel," "Color Wheel Too"), recalling the now-familiar rite of breaking the Olympic rings into ribboning flights of fabric and frounce. 

 It gets wilder. A 25-member orchestra of didgeridoos serenades the audience. 
Percussionists strapped into wheel-shaped drum kits are rolled onstage in a feat worthy of television's "The Chair." Horn players turn cartwheels, presumably without missing a note. While you wouldn't want to pay the hair-products bill for this group of well-buffed and -fluffed mousse-keteers --- mostly in their 20s --- it's a pleasure to witness their youthful vigor and showmanship. And there are flashes of magic, particularly when Mark Thompson's sets and costumes and Hugh Vanstone's lighting meld into visually arresting patterns (see "Lemontech"). 


 If I thought this was the future of theater, I'd ask for the arsenic. But I don't think it is. "Blast!" isn't about aesthetics. It's about the rush of loud music coursing through the veins. And I can say without qualification that I have never heard a better trumpet solo played by a man standing on a folding chair suspended from the rafters.

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