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March Madness

Blast! is what becomes of the nation's elite band geeks.


Lovers of marching bands will have a blast at Blast!
  • Lovers of marching bands will have a blast at Blast!
It's little surprise that Blast! puts the emphasis on instrumentalists: The Tony Award-winning spectacle -- which opens Tuesday at the Palace -- is built around an equally award-winning drum and bugle ensemble. But there's plenty more to it than that.

James Mason, the show's director and producer, hit upon the idea of bringing marching-band theatrics to a wider audience while watching a production of The Wiz a few years ago. "Dancers were spinning and manipulating long poles that created a yellow-brick road. Every time they spun these poles, no matter how badly they did it, the crowd would go crazy," says Mason, who's also the artistic director for the Star of Indiana drum and bugle corps. "I thought, not only do I know people who can spin poles, but they can throw them three feet in the air and catch them behind their back."

So Mason assembled 54 performers -- most in their early 20s and many of them veterans of high school and college marching bands. "They have to be instrumentalists, athletes, actors, and vocalists," he says. They also have to undergo an extensive training period, with rehearsals that run from morning to night, six days a week for three months.

Blast! consists of three ensembles: brass, percussion, and visual performers -- the flag-and-pole twirlers. "Unlike what you would experience in a marching band, the personalities of the individuals are very important to Blast!," Mason says. "We want the audience to connect with these young people."

The connection usually comes by Act Two, when performers trade the first act's cool tones (blue, green) and more aloof stage presence for warm colors (red, orange) and a more audience-interactive approach. The show is ultimately a journey through color as well as numerous musical styles: Jazz, rock, techno, and classical music are all interwoven into the work, says Mason. "The musicians themselves become the animators and actors of the music."

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