The full-volume brass, percussion and fast-footwork extravaganza aptly named “Blast!,” an outgrowth of the prize-winning Star of Indiana drum and bugle corps, has arrived in its home country after being produced, designed and presented first in London. Inspired by and seeking to fill much the same niche as crowd-pleasers like “Riverdance,” “Tap Dogs” and “Stomp,” “Blast!” is essentially a highly theatricalized half-time entertainment that draws on 55 musicians and other performers, mostly from a World Championship Drum & Bugle Corps.
The aim is to prove how much fancy footwork the performers can serve up while playing — brilliantly — brass and percussion instruments. There’s much to marvel at, including endless twirling and juggling of banners, flags, etc., but monotony does eventually settle in. There’s also a physical and aural relentlessness about “Blast!” that’s exhausting. A few moments of quiet would give the audience a break as well as offer some contrast. Still, within its own sphere the show delivers the goods, and certainly whipped up the first-night audience into a frenzy of appreciation.
“Blast!” is not particularly American. It has a strong Germanic air about it that sometimes teeters on the brink of pretentiousness. Influences seem to include 1920s German modern dance as well as Busby Berkeley, ballet, acrobatics and the circus. It even manages to make “Gee, Officer Krupke!” from “West Side Story” sound like a Bavarian beerhall tune, partially because of the brass-heavy arrangements. (Performers use 61 brass instruments and 234 percussion instruments.)
The show begins with a single drummer centerstage playing the opening measures of Ravel’s “Bolero.” He’s joined by an ever-increasing number of musicians for an impressively performed, five-minute version of this showpiece. (Wisely, all of the production’s numbers are kept short and swift.) America is embraced in such numbers as a sung version of the Shaker hymn ” ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple” followed by excerpts from Copland’s ballet “Appalachian Spring” and later excerpts from Samuel Barber’s ballet “Medea.” Both ballets were written for Martha Graham, although the choreography here owes nothing to her.
There are drummer duels, forays into the audience and a quick visit to Australia via 25 or so copies of the aboriginal Australian wind instrument the didgeridoo. Other wide-ranging influences include Japan and Mexico. Because the show is heavily amplified, there are several moments when it looks and sounds as though the performers are miming to recorded music, which may or may not be the case. In any case, the performers are all enthusiastic.
Technically the show is first-rate, and it’s splendidly designed by its British team. Set and costume designer Mark Thompson has created three false prosceniums that are lit in a variety of colors. His costumes are neatly contemporary, and Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is magnificently kaleidoscopic.
“Blast!” has upcoming dates in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, and is working at picking up additional dates along the way. The Wang Theater had a goodly share of representatives of similar venues around the country scouting the show on opening night.