Blast,” the latest mindless sight-and-sound spectacle to land on Broadway, could be subtitled “revenge of the marching-band geeks.” Kids who faced humiliating remarks in homeroom class on the subject of their awkward instrument cases and cheesy uniforms now are strutting, smiling and swaying their hips in chic black overalls at the Broadway Theater, earning Broadway dollars while clearly having a hell of a time banging their drums or blowing their horns.
While “Blast” isn’t precisely what you’d call intellectually challenging theater, it does bring some revelations. We now know that it is possible to play the trombone while riding a unicycle (do not try this at home, please). We also know that it’s possible to look reasonably sexy while manipulating a bass tuba (don’t try that either, come to think of it).
The show also is breaking new ground in the financing department: Presumably this is the first Broadway extravaganza to be produced by a company “that designs, manufactures and markets a complex group of diagnostic and minimally invasive surgical devices and instruments,” hopefully including an implement capable of removing a trombone from the larynx of a unicyclist.
Clearly modeled on such previous road money-spinners as “Riverdance” and “Stomp,” “Blast” borrows some of the pseudo-spiritual pretensions of the former and a splash of the brash rebellious energy from the latter, but it has its own ingratiating charm. The cast consists of nearly 60 youngsters in their 20s, divided between brass blowers, drum thumpers and members of what the program calls the “visual ensemble.”
Energetic and attractive, they cheerily array themselves around the Broadway Theater stage and occasionally the rest of the house, performing what is essentially a lavishly produced, stylishly decorated and slightly more sophisticated football half-time show. (The bright costumes and black-and-white sets are courtesy of designer Mark Thompson, collaborating with lighting designer Hugh Vanstone; the two also are repped on Broadway this season by “Follies,” at the other extreme of the sophistication spectrum.)
While the band marches around in geometric formations, executing minimal choreography with such appendages as are not involved in musicmaking, the members of the visual ensemble perform more elaborate — if scarcely more sophisticated — dancing, while also flinging flags and other objects into the air, drill-team style, winning gasps of admiration when they catch them with nary a slip.
Musical selections are eclectic, ranging from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” to “Gee Officer Krupke” from “West Side Story.” Little vignettes, including a snare-drum battle and borderline-campy bits of ballet, break up the parade of big, blaring ensemble numbers.
“Blast” is not going to be stealing any ticket buyers from, say, “The Invention of Love,” but it’s a reasonably solid chunk of audiovisual stimulation and should be an easy sell to summer tourists and foreign auds. It’s hard to resist a show that actually serenades the audience on the sidewalk as it exits; walking up Broadway, I half expected — or maybe feared is a better word — I’d see the tireless kids following me into the subway, tubas and trombones still blaring.