Fast-paced ‘Blast!’ feeds on youthful energy

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 15, 2002

“Blast!” represents every band geek’s revenge.

Though the show evolved from the routines of the Star of Indiana drums corps, make no mistake about it. This is no school production and there are no nerds in “Blast!,” which just opened at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre.

On opening night, the 54-member touring company effortlessly multitasked its way through a fast-paced show that fed on youthful energy. It helps that most of the cast members are in their early to mid-20s.

Fans of other percussion-heavy shows such as “Stomp” and “Blue Man Group” should get a bang out of “Blast!” as well. Here, they play traditional instruments, but in nontraditional settings.

Some of the performers are specialists, sticking primarily to dance and rhythmic gymnastics. But just about all the musicians double as dancers, swiveling their hips in unison and executing precisely choreographed moves that would make the Rockettes jealous.         And they never miss a note. Not even while floating on a chair from high above the stage.

The first act started slowly with Ravel’s sultry “Bolero.” Watching a line of horn players dancing in unison as they played was disconcerting at first. But by the time Frank Sullivan played his evocative trumpet solo, “Loss,” anything seemed possible.

“Battery Battle” was a visual treat. Both players in that “drum off” were definitely talented, but the playing was secondary to the spectacle. Who wouldn’t like to watch a pair of percussionists spinning on a drummer rotisserie (a la Tommy Lee of Motley Crue)?         Director James Mason split his cast into three disciplines: brass, percussion and visual ensembles. The latter stunningly interchanged sabers with multicolored flags, and moved with soldierlike precision.

Athleticism and dance are the focus of the second act, which moved at a quicker, more fluid pace. Dressed alike and appearing very much like sexy doppelgangers, long, lean and leggy Jeremiah Huber and Deborah Barrigan glided with sensual longing in their modern pas de deux.

The rhythmic gymnasts also were outstanding, performing on a relatively crowded stage where one slip could’ve meant a disaster for the musicians.


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