Blast! Takes Off at the Arlington

Blast! is the Cinderella of the marching band world. What
started several years ago as a youth drum corps in Indiana has
since expanded its repertoire and undergone several incarnations to
become one of the most popular touring shows in the country. Next
week, Blast! springs to life on the Central Coast as part of the
Arlington Theatre’s Broadway series. “Our roots date back to the
Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps,” said featured performer Wes
Bullock. “We were young, and very good.” As for his craft, he
added, “it’s hard to describe drum corps. Take a marching band and
put it on steroids — meaning it’s aggressive, less flouncy.
Basically a really cool marching band without any woodwind
instruments.” Popular predominantly in the Midwest, drum groups
generally tour and play short gigs for paying audiences throughout
the summer months. Musician and businessman Jim Mason, however, saw
new potential for the Star of Indiana. Based in Bloomington, he was
well acquainted with the troupe and wanted to see what the kids
could do with a two-hour stage show. Thus Blast! was born, and it
has since played London, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy
Center. In addition, a six-month New York stint led to a 2001 Tony
Award for best theatrical event and Mason’s best director
nomination for a 2002 National Broadway Theater Award. “Drumming is
our roots,” Bullock said, “but the show has really gone beyond its

Forgoing a set storyline, Blast! exemplifies atypical Broadway.
Its theatrical genre? “Noise,” laughed Bullock. “It is a plot-less,
text-less piece of theater.” The action is theoretically based on
the color wheel, with each scene costumed and staged in shades of
each spoke. “We explore colors,” he explained. “For example, green
is a cool color. Black is used to show anger. The end of the show
is hot and fiery, just awesome.”

Though drums still play a starring role, Blast! has evolved into
a showcase for a broad spectrum of instruments. According to
Bullock, the tour travels with 600 percussion instruments, as well
as drum mallets and “the entire brass family.” The cast will do its
best to make Arlington patrons part of the action. “We play
didgeridoos up and down the aisles,” Bullock enthused. “At one
point, nearly the entire cast of 30 is in the auditorium, except
for a couple of tubas left onstage.” Individual numbers represent
countries across the globe, starting here in America with Aaron
Copland’s haunting “Appalachian Spring” suite and the joyous
Leonard Bernstein ditty, “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side
Story; blues, big band material, and spirituals are also

Sound isn’t the only important sensory aspect of Blast! As in
most Broadway shows, “dance is huge for us,” Bullock said.
Choreographers Jonathan Vanderkolff and George Pinney received Tony
nominations for their work with the show. In a unique display of
versatility, every Blast! musician is capable of executing rigorous
dance choreography, and the production’s dance squad can
whistle — and drum — a happy tune. “It’s not typical Broadway
dance,” Bullock said. “They’re throwing sabers and flags around the
stage, and they also play percussion.” Every one of the show’s
performers is “constantly in motion,” he added. “It’s a visual

A cast member’s show night agenda can be quite chaotic. Bass
players, for example, might be pounding instruments in one scene
and tap dancing their way through the next. According to Bullock,
“you might sing during the ‘Appalachian Spring’ number, then drum a
bit, then go change [costume] and play the horn.”

With precise choreography necessary for both the dance and the
music, rehearsals for this national tour are intense. At its base
in Bloomington, Indiana, the company practiced “101⁄2 hours per
day, six days per week, for five weeks” in preparation for the
road. In keeping with a “homegrown” philosophy, cast members took
their paces in the same elementary school — now closed — which was
used as a practice facility by the original Star Drum Corps. “We
rehearse in the old cafeteria with push-away tables,” said Bullock.
A former trumpet player understudy, he now acts as Blast!’s
conductor and performance supervisor — the mayor of a community of
performers who turn to him for guidance. “Most of this cast has
done drum corps, but there are many that haven’t. We’ve got kids
right out of high school — little prodigies,” he said fondly. This
multi-talented mother ship lands at theArlington on Thursday, March
16, and blasts off promptly at 7:30.

4•1•1 Blast! shows on Thursday, March 16 at
7:30 p.m. at Arlington Theatre. For more information, visit


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