In 2001, Broadway audiences were treated to a rare event, one that not only celebrated music but also musicianship in ways we hadn't seen before or since on the Great White Way. Of course I'm talking about Blast!
Blast! was a special engagement production which was created by James Mason, the director of the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps. The cast mainly consisted of musicians. Blast!'s instrumentation was exclusively brass and percussion, a nod to the show's roots in the drum and bugle corps activity. Blast!'s performers used trumpets, flugelhorns, mellophones, baritone horns, tubas, trombones (including one on a unicycle during "Gee, Officer Krupke!"), french horns, and a full complement of percussion instruments including snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums, xylophones. vibraphones and marimbas, timpani, and other standard percussion equipment. In addition, Blast! added instruments not normally found in drum corps, such as French horns, concert euphoniums, trombones and bass trombones, didgeridoos and synthesizers. Accompanying the wind and percussion was the Visual Ensemble (or VE for short), a group of dancers who manipulated a variety of props, similar to a color guard.
The show ran at The Broadway Theatre from Apr 17, 2001 - Sep 23, 2001. It went on to win a Tony Award for "Best Special Theatrical Event" and also won the 2001 Emmy Award for "Best Choreography".
I remember friends of mine, who had been in band in high school, went nuts over this show. When I finally saw it, I could clearly understand why. There, on stage, was one of the finest collection of musicians I had ever seen. While many of the numbers were highly entertaining, some of them were profoundly inspiring, such as "Simple Gifts."
I remember walking out of the theater wishing I had kept playing drums, as I'm sure a lot of people felt when they left the theater as well.
So why do I think Blast! needs to come back to New York? It's not because we've stopped appreciating our pit orchestras and all the amazing worked they do. It's because every now and then we need to be reminded of the artistry that is playing an instrument and what an education in music can lead to.
We live in a time where we see more canned music for national tours and public education leaning towards more vocational training rather than artistic. The time has never been better to bring back a show where the beauty of live music is front and center.
I can only imagine the impact that a new version of Blast! can make on a brand new generation of young aspiring musicians.