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What Cirque du Soleil did for the circus, "Blast!" tries to do for that venerable, unsung form of all-American entertainment--the halftime show.

You know, marching bands blaring brass renditions of songs from "The Phantom of Opera" or "Jekyll & Hyde." Choreography that is more athletic than artistic, usually accompanied by the waving of large flags. Something to watch while the opposing teams are getting pep talks in the locker rooms.

Yet "Blast!" is unlike your usual halftime diversion. The show has higher, arty aspirations that make for a weird mixture of apple-pie enthusiasm and unintentional camp. After touring the hinterlands, "Blast!" has hit New York, showcased not in a stadium but in the Broadway Theatre, one of city's biggest legit playhouses.

The show wants to integrate theatrical values--lavish settings, costumes, lighting--with the more traditional aspects of a precision, drum-and-bugle corps extravaganza.

The large cast, nearly 60 in all, performs splendidly, with robust good cheer and astonishing agility. (Have you ever tried to ride a unicycle and play a band instrument at the same time?)

What works best among its 16 production numbers are the more lighthearted moments which show off the performers' virtuosity. That old sure-fire chestnut, Ravel's "Bolero," opens "Blast!" as the cast, playing everything from trumpets to tubas to trombones to a slew of drums, slowly assembles on stage.

Hokey, of course, but effective in a stirring, pulse-racing way.

More problematic are the evening's serious intentions, scuttled by pedestrian choreography. The dancing, devised by Jim Moore, George Pinney and John Vanderkolff, involves a lot of posing, often with brightly colored flags. Its self-importance can induce fits of giggles.

The music ranges from American classical heavyweights such as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber to nondescript New Age melodies.

"Blast!" grew out of director James Mason's involvement with Star of Indiana, a drum and bugle corps he started in the 1980s. At the end of the evening, the cast greets audience members as they exit the theater. They are personable, friendly folk. Their accomplishments are considerable, even if the show they're in falls short of a full-fledged joyful noise.


Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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