Also see Scott's recent review of Christmas in Lights
Like its predecessors Riverdance and Stomp, Blast is the type of show that is difficult to define or categorize. It isn't a musical, play, concert, revue, or recital. It has elements of all of these and more. For certain, however, it is a delight of sights and sounds. The national tour of Blast starts out the Broadway In Cincinnati subscription series for this season and is a thoroughly entertaining and exhilarating show.
Blast incorporates the elements of drum and bugle corps shows (brass, percussion, and visual guard) and displays them in a heightened theatrical format. Through instrumental performance, dance, object manipulation, marching, choral singing, comedy, acting, movement, and various other skills, individual stories and themes are presented. So moving and thrilling is their program that many audience members gave a standing ovation at the end of the first act before intermission on opening night.
The young performers, ranging in age from 20 to 32, show great flexibility in abilities and styles, and seem to tap into a never-ending supply of energy. Skilled musicians playing euphoniums, tubas, trombones, French horns, trumpets, and other brass instruments produce a wide array of wonderful sounds ranging from beautiful soaring ballads to ear splitting jazz breakouts. Whether solo or as an ensemble, they display masterful technique and accurate interpretation of the songs to create magnificent music. The percussionists likewise show off great dexterity, remarkable stage presence and showmanship, a fitting cocky attitude, and fine musicianship. The visual ensemble consisting of five men and five women show off grace and strength through dance and their accurate handling and tossing of various props. Not only are traditional objects such as flags, sabers, batons, and rifles used, but other implements of various shapes and sizes are also thrown, caught, and controlled with near perfect accuracy. However, no performer is limited to only their primary skill. Brass musicians dance and twirl their horns in controlled motions, drummers act and perform intricate stage combat while playing, and guard members sing and make music with their props.
The songs heard are a good mix of existing material and new tunes written specifically for Blast. Highlights in music, staging, and visual presentation include "Bolero," "Simple Gifts/Appalachian Spring," West Side Story's "Gee Officer Krupke," and "Malaguema." Several numbers incorporate instruments and sounds from various native cultures to provide some needed variety in the program.
The staging, direction, and choreography of Blast are shared by a number of individuals. James Mason serves as Artistic Director, George Pinney as Acting Director, James Prime as Musical Director, and Jonathan Vanderkolff as Staging Director. Their experience in theater and drum and bugle corps is put to excellent use. The showcasing of each of the three main groups of performers is nicely balanced throughout the show, and transitions from one piece to another are smooth. The staging effectively communicates the tone of each song, and also does not limit the cast to the confines of the stage, with the orchestra, loge and balcony aisles used. Mr. Vanderkolff, Mr, Pinney, and Jim Moore are credited with the inventive, electric, and intricate choreography. At various times, the staged is filled by quick-paced marching patterns, graceful dances, or finely tuned movements by groups of performers. It is truly a visual treat.
The scenic and costume designs are by Mark Thompson. A vertical set of tiered boxes allows the large percussion instruments to be seen well, while not taking up too much precious stage space. The design schemes are mostly black and white, with various bright colors infused intermittently mostly through the props used. Hugh Vanstone's effective lighting provides many scenes with a dramatic intensity and is highlighted in the second act.
Blast is a praiseworthy theatrical event of precision, flair, and style. The music and motion is a pleasure to one's eyes and ears. The show continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through November 25, 2001. To order tickets, please call (800) 294-1816