- Banging and stomping with the cast of Blast! at the Palace Theatre.
It involves a bunch of young folks pounding on percussion instruments. It uses unconventional items, such as metal pipes and brake drums, to make music. And it announces itself with a simple, look-at-me title. But Blast! is no mere Stomp rip-off, its originator will tell you.
"It's really a new musical genre," says James Mason, the creative force behind the 60-member troupe. "There's nothing like it. You hear a lot of clichés like that, but it's true. It's kind of like if an orchestra, which has been playing the same music for a couple hundred years, decides to move their chairs offstage, throw away the music stands, and the musicians themselves become the animators and performers of the music."
Evolved from the award-winning Star of Indiana drum corps, Blast! -- which prides itself on being "born on athletic fields across the nation" -- combines Broadway-style razzle-dazzle with marching-band precision. It integrates blues, pop, jazz, and rock, as well as a bit of nerdy high school bandness.
"I saw The Wiz on Broadway, and there was a section of the yellow brick road where there were people manipulating these long poles," Mason explains. "And I thought, [they should] spin the poles, throw them 30 feet in the air, and [have] somebody else catch them behind their back. And it just seemed like, boy, someday I would really like to show the talented skills of outdoor pageantry onstage."
And in case the Stomp similarities still seem too overwhelming, consider the classroom philosophy Mason applies to Blast! (as opposed to Stomp's obvious street origin): "I tied it together with color," he says. "Music and color communicate in a way that is very special. For example, when you think of blue, you think of moody qualities. So we program [a song under blue lights that] pulls at your heartstrings."
The players, who range in age from 18 to 31, are broken down into three basic groups: brass, visual, and percussion. But just because Blast!ers aren't beating on garbage cans, don't assume they're not aware of the comparisons. "We explore musical instruments in a way [Stomp doesn't]," Mason notes. "And Stomp came from Britain and has a smaller cast."
Airborne flags, streamers, rifles, and cartwheelers are also part of the show. And the music runs the gamut from Ravel to Chuck Mangione. Just like your high school band!
"This really is a natural transition," Mason says. "There are certain parameters and disciplines you are given, and I believe that discipline defines the art form. And one of the disciplines is that of space. You look at that space and ask, How can we take the performers' talents and place it in an arena this large, and then present it?
"The tricky thing is to reduce all the movement incorporated on a football field into a postage stamp." Or is that stomp?