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Hotter than your school's marching band

January 31, 2008|MICHAEL RYDZYNSKI

If you go to the Orange County Performing Artscenter anytime next week, there's a good chance you'll have a blast. Literally.

Starting Tuesday, "Blast!" returns to the OC for a one-week stand. In the tradition of such one-word shows as "Stomp" and "Riverdance," "Blast!" take a genre--here drum-and-bugle corps--and lifts it to a whole new art form: part theater, part dance, part pageantry, part concert and part athletics.

"Really, it's impossible to describe it," admits Wesley Bullock, artistic supervisor and conductor of "Blast!" "I call it a visual tone poem, a two-hour production of music and movement which runs the musical, choreographic and emotional gamut."

"It's music in motion," says James Mason, creator and artistic director, "where musicians themselves become the actors and animators of the music, almost in a "Fantasia" kind of way, playing a very eclectic repertoire."

Thirty-five brass, percussion and visual artists (color guards, flag-bearers and such) play 15 numbers in a show honored with a Tony (Best Special Theatrical Event) and Emmy (Best Choreography), both in 2001, the year it last played at the Artscenter.

"It's drum-and-bugle corps meets Cirque du Soleil," says Dan Sher, executive producer of this U.S. tour. "It's a visual extravaganza of the technical-precision world of drum-and-bugle and the surreal world of Cirque, breaking down that fourth wall and engaging the audience."

"Unlike 'Stomp,' we use real instruments," says Dave Cox, one of two snare-drum soloists in the show. "We have 100-plus orchestral and marching-band brass and percussion instruments of every kind."

Mason had been thinking of "Blast!" for more than two decades before its debut.

"In 1977, I saw 'The Wiz' on Broadway and was so impressed seeing actors spinning these poles to guide the characters as if they were the Yellow Brick Road," he says.

After then starting his career teaching drum-and-bugle corps, Mason headed the just-formed Star of Indiana in 1984, which quickly became the top-ranked drum-and-bugle corps in the nation, winning numerous outdoor field competitions through 1993.

By 1994, Mason, wanting for something novel, had football stadium-based Star of Indiana join forces with Canadian Brass to play indoor venues as "Brass Theater." After three summers alternately touring with Canadian Brass and with the percussion quartet Nexus, Brass Theater eventually caught the eye and invitation of a London producer, who nonetheless insisted on a snappier name.

Mason recalls: "That' when Blast!" popped in my head."

Thus, "Blast!" popped onto the cultural scene at London's Apollo Theatre at the end of 1999. It since has earned plaudits and standing O's in four countries, including Japan (five tours) and the U.S. (four).

"We are to American drum-and-bugle corps what 'Riverdance' is to Irish clogging," Bullock proudly states.






WHERE: Orange County Performing Artscenter,

Sergerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa


WHEN: Opens 7:30 Tue. Runs 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 10


PRICE: $20-$60


INFO: (714) 556-2787;

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