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
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.