by Steve Vickers, Drum Corps World publisher
It’s been a little more than 11 years since “BLAST!” first appeared on stage at the Apollo Hammersmith Theater in London. I was fortunate to be among the audience at the premier and second performance the next day (December 14-15, 1999), the final show in London (April 22, 2000), as well as seven additional times, including on Broadway in New York City (April 28, 2001), Milwaukee, WI (Sepember 27, 2000), Chicago, IL (November 4, 2000), St. Louis, MO (September 7, 2001), St. Paul, MN (October 4, 2003) and here in Madison, WI (October 18, 2005).
The success of the show is somewhat unique for a touring stage production since it has been “revived” so many times since 1999. Traversing the United States requires a promoter to sign on and set up a tour, with the schedule usually running for anywhere from two to five months. The show ran nearly continuously for 10 years and it’s coming back this fall.
While tour locations and dates have not yet been announced, there is great anticipation among drum corps fans and participants to once again see the show that is the closest thing to drum and bugle corps on a stage ever offered.
Of course, “BLAST!” grew out of Star of Indiana, the corps having fielded top-level groups consistently from 1985 until 1993, winning the DCI title in 1991 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. Many of the original cast members of “BLAST!” came from Star, joined over the years by age-outs from a myriad of corps across North America.
Mason is again assembling a cast, expected to number about three dozen, then again take “BLAST!” on the road, hopefully to a venue near many DCW readers. In anticipation of the schedule announcement later this year, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with James Mason and find out what he has in store for the latest version of his Tony- and Emmy-award-winning show.
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Steve Vickers: Do you have a launch date and location yet?
James Mason: We are looking to launch the tour September 27, with a week-long sitdown performance in Tennessee.
SV: Have you started recruiting for the cast yet and do you anticipate many individuals who have been part of the group in the past to return?
JM: We hope to have at least one cast member back in each section, but at the same time we are always on the lookout for great talent and this year is no exception. I suggest that anyone interested in auditioning go to www.megshows.com and once there you can download the audition information.
SV: How about the staff? Will the same key designers be on-board and are there any new faces added since the production last toured?
JM: The designers remain intact and are excited about having the show tour the U.S again. I’m the artistic director, Donnie Van Doren is casting director, Jon Vanderkolff will be the staging director, Jeff Lee the musical director, Jim Moore as choreographer and George Pinney filling the role of acting director.
SV: Will the musical selections remain the same as previous versions?
JM: “BLAST!” has been the same show since we won the Tony Award. This tour we do plan to change out a couple of numbers just to add a new wrinkle to the production. We are currently trying to identify two numbers that would make the show current and at the same time blend into what is already in place.
SV: Is the tour going to venture into any new territory that hasn’t seen “BLAST!” during previous tours?
JM: That’s tough to say as they are still booking the tour. I do know that we have played so many places multiple times. Oh and please, if readers have a theater near them and want to see “BLAST!” come to town, then ask their box office to bring it to your city. I do know that we are planning to go from coast to coast and North to South this time. It should be a wonderful experience and I look forward to seeing the show again around the country.
SV: How long will this tour last?
JM: The tour begins in late September and runs until mid-April, with a scheduled holiday break. We then plan rolling that cast into a tour of Japen in the summer of 2012 and going until the end of October.
SV: When do you anticipate announcing specific dates and locations?
JM: We will have the tour dates and locations on-line at www.megshows.com and www.blasttheshow.com by August 1. We are also about to kick off next month our official “BLAST!” Facebook, Twitter and YouTube page, as well as many other digital and social network communications. It’s truly a very exciting time getting the word out about “BLAST!”
SV: Do you have any other projects going on that you’d like us to know about?
JM: Yes. My team and I are in the middle of several surprisingly new and different projects. Unfortunately, we can’t talk about them until the release dates. Keep watching our Web sites.
SV: You must be very proud of the staying power of “BLAST!” Any final thoughts or information you’d like to share?
JM: I would like to thank Bill Cook. “BLAST!” has been seen live by over 7 million people. I don’t even know how many people have viewed the PBS telecast and our DVD sales have gone platinum! Bill, is still our number one fan and, without his support, we would not have been able to share this wonderful gift with the world.
The other thing I would like to add is a big thank you to ALL the cast members who have graced the stage for us over the years. Without them, their energy and skill, we would not have been able to accomplish what we have.
It’s incredible to see how many are staying involved in music education, drum corps, color guard and developing their own professional careers. It makes me feel proud that Mason Entertainment Group and Cook Group, Inc. had a part in these people’s lives. They are now sharing their talents with so many and I find it truly amazing!
SV: You’ve filled part of your time getting involved with your alma mater, the Madison Scouts. Any details you can share about your concept for the 2011 production?
JM: Mr. Cook taught me to give back, so it seemed natural to me to go back to my roots and give back to an organization that gave me so much. I had a ball last year working with the young men of Madison and I’m really excited by this year’s show, “New York Morning.” It promises to challenge the group and maybe even give the Scouts a couple of new twists.
It should be another fun DCI season with so many quality groups out on the road this summer and I am really look forward to it.
SV: Thanks, once again, for spending time discussing your projects. Best of luck with “BLAST!” and the Madison Scouts this year!
For details on the new “BLAST!” tour, go to www.blasttheshow.com.