SCHENECTADY — Even superlatives don’t do justice to “Blast.”
The show, set for Sunday afternoon at Proctors, has been hailed as “an exhilarating evening,” “entertainment of the highest order,” “a visual and aural juggernaut” and, appropriately, “a blast.”
But what is “Blast?”
“It’s virtually impossible to describe,” said Wes Bullock, one of the 35 musicians and dancers of “Blast.” “It falls into the genre of noise theater. There is no text or plot. It’s a musical and visual extravaganza, between ‘Stomp’ and ‘Riverdance.’ It has the spectacle and class of ‘Riverdance’ with the musical exploration of ‘Stomp.’ ”
And it’s all done with a color guard and drum and bugle corps on steroids.
“Blast” got its start in 1984 with Bill Cook. The Bloomington, Ind., businessman felt that area’s young musicians, his son included, deserved more than 10 minutes at halftime on a football field for their stage. So he founded Star of Indiana, an ensemble designed to compete in drum and bugle corps championships. He enlisted James Mason, a veteran of drum and bugle corps, to direct the group. And by 1991, the ensemble reigned as world champion.
The cost of the venture was high though, more than a $1 million a year. So Mason decided to create a continual stream of income with a theatrical show. He teamed up with Canadian Brass for “Brass Theater,” a showcase to celebrate the flourish, precision and ring of a marching band. In 1999, that show launched “Blast,” which premiered at the Apollo, Hammersmith, in London. And as Bullock, who has been with “Blast” from the beginning said, “It took off. It really hit onto something.”
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $40, $35 and $30
MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org
No doubt. The pageantry of “Blast,” with its continual refinement, has since led to a PBS special, a recording contract with RCA Victor, tours of the world and a run on Broadway in 2001. That year, the show won a Tony Award for best choreography.
Bullock, who is the tour conductor and the show’s didgeridoo soloist, said the show’s force perpetually surprises. Consider the section with the solo snare drum.
“A solo with a snare drum, you’ve got to be kidding. That has to be one of the most boring instruments ever created,” said Bullock. “But it is a highlight of the show.”
The soloist emerges from the shadows into a spotlight. He then proceeds to bang out a rapid, intensely meditative rhythm. It’s a snare tour de force that is topped off with an army of drummers marching up from behind. The pulse is irresistible.
“Nine out of 10 people will say this is their favorite part,” said Bullock. “It’s more like a dialogue with the audience. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
The music spins into motion with the color guard. Their precision formations, such as in the malaguena, is a parade of swirling flags and rotating rifles. The colorful spectacle is surrounded by tubas, trumpets and trombones whose players dip and dive between flying sabers.
“It’s color guard to the extreme,” said Bullock. “They are dancers, really.”
Visual tone poem
The musical selections are vast — Ravel’s “Bolero,” Maynard Ferguson’s “Everyone Loves the Blues,” Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Dance of Venegance.” The drummers and brass players also wail out techno, Japanese-tinged and Afro-Brazilian tunes.
The song and dance are all tied to the color spectrum. The first act is cool, the second, warm. And everything feeds into the feel.
“A prism of color or the color wheel is the unifying focus,” explained Bullock. Layered with the music, “it is a visual tone poem.”
Ultimately, “Blast” engages all ages. Bullock gauges its appeal at the end of every show when the cast comes out to greet the departing patrons. It’s here, Bullock sees the spectrum of people and happily soaks in their comments.
“There is not a day that goes by someone doesn’t say ‘That was the best show I have ever seen’ or ‘I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad I came.’ That’s the type of comments we get. So you’ve got to come. You won’t be disappointed.”