Prod'n structured to move more quickly, save money

CHICAGO — “Blast” never was a conventional piece of road product.

With a pedigree that combined London’s West End with an Indiana college town and content that melded the Drum and Bugle Corps with postmodern spectacle, the show was definitely different. Even though most New York critics weren’t especially kind to this celebration of heartland music and mores when it stopped on Broadway, it’s proved to be a resilient attraction on the road.

That’s especially been the case in the Midwest, where auds weaned on the Drum and Bugle Corps tradition love this family-friendly affair with its fresh-faced cast, cheery optimism and wholesome entertainment.

But “Blast” is facing something of a paradox.

“It became apparent early on that the Midwest was our primary market,” says tour spokeswoman Katherine Majors. “But we’re just too large to go in and out of smaller markets.”

So with the aim of servicing the kind of split-weekers that make up a good portion of the biz for booker Big League Theatricals, a sequel to “Blast” has been developed for the fall, “Blast II — Shockwave.”

Although Big League spokeswoman Marni Kuhn says the new show has only about 10 fewer cast members (thus still full of young bodies), it’s been structured to move more quickly and be affordable for split-week markets. The show will bow at West Point in New York late this month.

In an unusual move for a road show, the new “Blast” actually has been developed with the cooperation of Walt Disney — as in Walt Disney World, not Theatricals. An embryonic 30-minute version of “Shockwave” is just closing at Disney’s Epcot Center and will form the basis for the full-length affair, booked in some 70 markets over the next year.

“We didn’t want to do the same thing again,” says Mason, noting “Shockwave” moves away somewhat from the marching-band ethos to offer more of a celebration of individual virtuoso musicianship and a big-band sound.

Mason says the other major difference this time around is a woodwind section that was not part of the brass-obsessed original. “Shockwave,” which reunited most of the original creative team, has a more diverse musical sound.

Given the success of its parent, “Blast II” is being launched with surprisingly little fanfare — a deliberate strategy. The first “Blast” still has some major markets left to play and some reprise engagements, so it was important not to bastardize the original production. By opening in small markets, Big League and Mason hope slowly to raise the profile of the sequel so that it can move into big cities — perhaps just as the original “Blast” is running out of steam.

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