Saturday, November 10, 2001

A brassy 'Blast' blows through town

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When James Mason was 7, his older sister would baby-sit. She happened to be going with a guy who played in a drum and bugle corps, so little Jimmy spent a lot of time in the stands watching practice while sis flirted.

        One day a teacher walked up to him and said, “You spend a lot of time here. Want to try it?”

        And that, folks, was how Blast was born.

        It's the Tony Award-winning show that adds theatrics to drums and bugles. The musicians don't just play and march. They do cartwheels. They do splits. One trumpeter stands on a chair that's lowered from the ceiling and solos in midair. Musicians rehearse more than the music — and take gymnastics, ballet and modern dance classes.

        The 300-plus instruments range far beyond the glockenspiel to include world percussion. Blast is electronically bolstered brass, and it's coming to the Aronoff Center on Tuesday.

        Blast won a Tony Award for Mr. Mason this year in the new “what the heck is it?” category (officially, the best special theatrical event). It was created to cover the unscripted shows such as Riverdance, Stomp! Tap Dogs, Tango Argentine that have been invading Broadway and the national touring circuit.

        Mr. Mason is tickled that Blast was the category's first winner and isn't shy about saying that Blast! invents “a new musical genre.”

        “Brass and drums have been used to communicate since the beginning of time,” he says. “African tribes, Roman legions . . .”

        As for the half-time shows from which Blast was born, “it's outdoor pageantry, as American as anything ever created.”

        Between picking up his first bugle in Iowa at 7 and creating Blast a few decades later, Mr. Mason started arranging music for drum and bugle corps at 12, marched through college as part of a world champion corps and became founding director of Star of Indiana in 1984. The troupe took the 1991 world championship.

        Within two years, Mr. Mason put his world champs on tour with the Canadian Brass, then created Brass Theatre that did two summer stints in Branson, Mo. He continued thinking about a big stage show and says the whole thing came together on a family vacation. “I was on the beach talking to my wife and I could see it.”

        For Blast Mr. Mason has chosen some of his own favorite music. His taste, he says, ranges from jazz to classical to rock to blues to techno-pop. The show's line-up reflects his eclecticism, from Ravel's Bolero to Maynard Ferguson's “Everybody Loves the Blues” to Chuck Mangione's “Land of Make Believe.” The point, he says, is to take the audience “on an emotional journey.”

        And, yes, Blast, which has struck enough of a chord with audiences to be touring through 2004,is just the beginning.

        “We're in the process of creating things,” Mr. Mason says enigmatically. He's not about to say what the theme is, but if one blast is just not enough, watch for a new show in fall 2002.

If you go
What: Blast

        When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 25.

        • Where: Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall

        • Tickets: $35-$58. 241-7469


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