"Good luck describing it, I've been trying for a long time, and I think it's impossible," Wesley Bullock said of Blast, which opens tonight in the Stranahan Theater.
Bullock is choreographer and performance manager for the show, which he called a visual tone poem. (He also gets to play a solo on the didgeridoo, an indigenous Australian wind instrument.)
Though it is based on the sounds and movements of a drum and bugle corps, Blast has evolved into a true theatrical performance, Bullock said in a telephone interview from Amarillo, Texas, where the show was being presented earlier this month.
Blast got its start as a drum and bugle corps in 1984 in Bullock's hometown of Bloomington, Ind. Called Star of Indiana, its director was James Mason.
In 1985 it placed 10th at the Drum Corps International Championships, the highest ranking ever for a rookie unit. In 1991, seven years after Star of Indiana was formed, it won the world championship.
But Mason was tiring of just doing a 10 1/2-minute show on a football field, said Bullock, who joined Star of Indiana in 1992 at age 17. "He felt there was a nugget there that was worth more people seeing. It was his idea to do something more with it."
Mason struck a deal with Canadian Brass, and the unit toured with the popular brass ensemble for three summers, developing Brass Theater, a theatrical interpretation of classical music, at places such as Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts near Washington, D.C., the Hollywood Bowl, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts.
From there, Brass Theater settled into a venue in Branson, Mo., for two summers and developed the extravaganza that became Blast.
The professional show opened in London in 1999, then opened in the United States in 2000. It opened on Broadway in April, 2001, winning the Tony Award for best theatrical event. It closed, along with about 40 other shows, about two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The first national tour began in 2001, and Blast has been touring in the United States and summers in Japan ever since.
This cast of the show coming to Toledo has been together since Aug. 1, Bullock said. The production is a little smaller than the London and Broadway shows because of the size of the venues. "We have also adapted our set a little bit so we can get in and out faster, because on this particular tour we've done a lot of one-nighters."
But he insisted that the show is basically the same.
"You are going to see brass and percussion instruments, and you are going to see 35 people on the stage moving while they perform. Really, what you're going to experience is basically a two-hour emotional journey using music and movement as a means of expression, but well outside the box of drum and bugle corps.
"The architecture or the framework of the show is loosely based on the color spectrum. We start with sort of the cool colors in the first act, the warm colors in the second act. We go through a wide variety of musical styles - music and movement - over the course of the two-hour show, from Ravel's "Bolero" and [Aaron] Copland's "Appalachian Spring" to Samuel Barber's "Medea's Dance of Vengeance," a very angry piece. We have a Brazilian and Japanese-influenced drum piece called 'Marimba Spiritual.'●"
He went on to list works by Leonard Bernstein, Chuck Mangione, and Maynard Ferguson, as well as original compositions "by some of the guys that marched drum and bugle corps."
Bullock said Blast fits into the genre of what he calls "Noise Theater," a textless, plotless piece of work along the lines of Stomp, Blue Man Group, Tap Dogs, and Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk.
"I would say Riverdance is our closest relative in that it is a Broadway-type production which has sprung from a unique grassroots organization, in our case drum corps and in their case Irish clogging. If you say 'Let's go watch Irish clogging for two hours,' it's like 'no, no; I'll just watch SportsCenter instead.' And if you say, 'Hey, let's go hear drum corps for two hours,' that's not really [appealing]."
But Riverdance and Blast have infinite appeal, he said.
"You will probably get chills. We do a meet-and-greet in the lobby - we actually precede the audience into the lobby at the end of the show - and I don't think a day goes by that I don't hear somebody say 'You know, I've been coming to this theater for 35 years, 40 years, 20 years, whatever. This is THE best show I've ever seen.
"It's definitely a family show: 80-year-olds love it, 8-year-olds love it, 38-year-olds love it."
"Blast" opens tonight in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Presented by Theater League, performances are at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $33.50 to $42.50. Information is available from the Stranahan box office, 419-381-8851, or Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333.
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