Theater Season Opening Review, DCI 2015


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Venue: We walked into the theater about 15 minutes early and it was nearly full. When leaving, I looked for the seating capacity placard. It stated 275. So, I am guessing there were 250 in attendance. The sound and audio were wonderful, no issues whatsoever.

Madison Scouts: The white pants certainly make them look big. The six or so travel crate props seemed a little amateurishly designed, but I do not think they detract. The guard, in their Gene Kelly inspired costumes, entered the field with old style suitcases. The opening set promises power and Madison; the brass were in a large cursive-esque M, center field, a form that screamed, "locked and loaded." In general, they sound good and have taken a largely happy, skip-along approach with their Broadway inspired production. The guard is improved over last early season. The percussion seems good, though balance issues throughout made that unclear most of the time. I think there is a theme of walking down Broadway with your suitcase, looking for adventure in the big city- though I feel I am really working hard to have that assumption. There are also recurring interjections of a vocal, "gotta dance" that were not convincing. After a bit of searching online, this comes from "Singing in the Rain." After seeing some vintage video clips, I remembered the tune from the movie. The show did not flow well and had a lot of pacing issues. The ending was okay.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: I think fans of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s will feel right at home with the show. There are hummable melodies throughout. It seems that the guard will improve nicely and contribute the most amount of appeal of the show. The drumline has an effective moment in the last fourth of the show that delivers great energy. "Traffic Jammin" carries the most communication to the audience at this point and will be a positive spot in the show all summer. The brass arrangements do not sound like anyone else, and I do find that aspect of the music book to be refreshing.

Questions/concerns: Overall, the show did not communicate, at least in the theater. The opening hit was uncomfortably lack luster and other than creating a great center stage for the guard, is not a visual or musical evolution that pulls you in and keeps you wanting more. When the opening statement was over, the theater was awkwardly silent. I found similar issues throughout the production. Phrases seemed to wander and often end without creating resolution or tension. The drumline drill is often not integrated nor complementary visually. The music ensemble did not play together at all most of the production. That was surprising. I fear that unless audience members know several Gene Kelly movies, or at least are extremely familiar with this era of Broadway musicals, the show theme will not connect to many ticket holders. Too much of the show cae across as silly to me. That seems an adjective that would never describe a Scout's show. There isn’t anything to follow or get hooked on that guides you through the production. The brass did not move well, even for a first show, and they seem to have more playing issues than one would expect. We all of course expect improvement and change. My best to them this summer.

Blue Stars: I am a fan of the red plumes on the musicians, and the guard costumes are creatively appropriate, a somewhat modern design that incorporates the many colors one might see on vintage carnival decorations and signage. There are three carnival stages (4 if you count a short one that is on the front sideline). The stages include red velvet curtains and faux wood platforms. Like Madison’s props, in their current state, they look a bit amateurish. As their director discussed with Steve Rondinaro and Dennis Delucia, the music selections are appropriately from the depression era and are often treated with a dark harmonic language. All three sections of the corps seem equally talented. There were some impressive battery moments, and few that seemed a bit plagued with early season jitters/overhype. The guard is well-integrated as one would expect with Shapiro at the helm. Their equipment book is quite difficult. There are carnival-isms/elements throughout including a juggler, a test-your-strength-with a mallet prop, stage performers, etc. One extremely clever visual motive was the pairing of brass members and guard members throughout the show, an interpretation of conjoined twins. This idea will certainly be further developed. There were well-coordinated moments throughout that communicated well. The audience reacted much more to this offering that Madison’s.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: The theme is one that everyone can relate to in some way. The talent level in each section will allow for competitive scores in the performance captions. The pacing is already quite good and there was never a moment that something was not interesting or intriguing. The number of additions that can be made that would involve one performer, two, with a five minute effort, are numerous; the effect of the theme can be expanded quite a bit without it slowing the cleaning process.

Questions/concerns: Though unique, is the treatment of the show music too altered? too dark and heavy? for too much of the show? How many carnival derivative ideas will they insert to strengthen the relate-ability and concept saturation? What is the payoff at the end? Is there an eventual evolution of story or general mood? Can they argue that the show is not all about happy carnival-isms, but about the era, while making that more clear to the audience?

My best to them this summer.

Cavaliers: The musician’s uniform and guard costume look great together, with the guard costume and boxing headgear strongly supporting the show concept. The members seem older and certainly perform that way. There are 32—40 square, two-foot high platforms that are moved throughout the show. They look professionally produced, but painted in a tri-color palate that I do not think looked good on the screen. The show begins with a long fanfare that captures your attention immediately, though it is perhaps a bit long. The brass are certainly improved over last year and much improved over two years ago. There were some very convincing moments from them. The percussion are the strong suit of the corps at this time and I imagine that overtime, balancing drumline, to pit, to electronics will create a much higher appreciation of their efforts. The guard seemed the weakest section of the corps at this point. Color guards of course are always last to finish their show due to the nature of how shows are put on the field. The square platforms are moved quite a lot, creating opportunities to create a variety of stages and looks throughout the show. As the show progressed beyond the opening, I had more and more questions and felt less and less connected, less drawn into the production. There was only a mild reaction from the theater audience.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: They are doing their brand of drum corps and even without uniforms or knowing they are all male, you are clearly watching a Cavalier show- a good thing. A competitive brass line with power and punch is great to hear from them again. There is some creativity and originality happening in the music book, and for the vast majority of the show. They will be able to clean this and do well in the performance captions.

Questions/Concerns: I cannot remember one moment where the show theme was evident other than the guard costume. If I work extremely hard to assume the square platforms resemble Olympic medal platforms, and the fanfare at the beginning is somehow a victor’s fanfare (Olympics, Rocky, Gladiator’s entrance, etc.), then perhaps those elements do somehow tie in to “Game On.” There are tons of musical lines/elements happening at the same time. Can they create clarity of intent? and clarity in performance? How quickly can the guard clean? How does this concept come to life and how does it end most effectively? Can they get the points they want from the platforms, considering how much they move them and how much time it is going to take to clean all of that? My best to them this summer.

Carolina Crown: They have done what I think champions should do (I know it was two seasons ago); this show is what we know from this corps as well as a lot of brand new versions of themselves. I love the corps and guard costumes. The use of red is spectacular and the black on the musicians is a strong and appropriate look for this show.

The sound quality and musical precision was a huge difference over the previous groups. All sections are amazing, including the much-improved drumline (the low score in percussion was not reflective of my take on things). The hell theme is well done and the pacing through ideas worked well until the ending minutes. The musical selections are great choices to carry the concept. They use organ sounds throughout, which I think with some varied choices and extended use, will be an effective part of the sound scape. The use of color is effective, though I do not think they were using all show flags. There seems at this point to be more musical challenge for the musicians than visual challenge. The guard is in my opinion their best ever. There were quite a few jaw-dropping moments from that section. For the entire corps, there are several phrases that are as strong as anything we will see all summer. The ending was forced and ineffective. I am sure it will change.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: Talent, talent, talent. Taking calculated risks that are now, and will in the future, be paying off for them. Already extremely clean in sections. Convincing. Great communicators. Memorable. Melodic.

Appealing to a wide variety of tastes. Leave you wanting to see them again and again. Simply amazing. Wow!

Questions/Concerns: Can they win? I think chances are better than last year. What will they do in response to the corps just above and just below them in regards to show development, variety, use of electronics? Will they try to take us through the Inferno story, or will they simply focus on hell? The former will be harder to pull off. If trying to include the ascension part of the tale, the major-keyed “Ode to Joy” makes sense, but how will they show us that the ending is the ascension? How can it be super clear? How can the ascension portion not happen so abruptly? How many more elements of screams, use of organ, fire, anguish, etc. will be used to further enhance the show? My best to them this summer.

Bluecoats: To steal another poster’s comment, “They picked up where they left off last year.” If most are like me, I was eager to see where they would take themselves, take us, in 2015. They uniform change is minor, but fits the metallic, large, 9 or so spherical cage props used in the show. “Kinetic Noise” seems evident in the guard costume. The colorful, outlined swirl fabric on the guard adds needed color and supports the flag choices made throughout the production. The props add to the visual throughline that results in fantastic use of circles, curves, etc. throughout the entire show- so well done. As suspected, the use of electronics is overwhelmingly creative, varied, and at most times, super engaging. The play, march, spin at an amazing level already. The show is non-stop and does not require a road map for anyone to follow the journey they provide. It is hard to imagine what they will add and enhance. Cleaning will of course add to the already wonderful effectiveness of the show.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: Talent, talent, talent. Taking calculated, and risky risk. The show concept is wide open to take in as many directions they wish to explore. Though it doesn’t always happen in drum corps, last year’s hype will aid their popularity this season, however, opposed to what sometimes happens, they have a show that will live up to and surpass the hype.

Questions/concerns:

Can they win? This may be a better chance than last year. What will they do in response to the corps just above and just below them in regards to show development, variety, and demand in all areas? How will they balance out all the sounds we are hearing? How will they respond to their competitors’ arguments against them in critique? Can they change, add, clean at a rate that will propel and pace them to their best performance occurring on final’s night? My best to them this summer.

Cadets: You watch Crown, Bluecoats, and are thinking that corps keep getting better and better, doing more and more amazing things, and then- Cadets come on and blow you away even more than the previous two groups. This is Cadets doing Cadets, AND, responding to what Blue Devils and Bluecoats did for the activity in 2014. The guard costume works extremely well with the corps proper. There are several directions they could have gone with it. I like that they chose a structured, colorful look, without graphics. Graphical elements are on the flags and backdrops. Smart. The concept of “10” is astute and cleverly handled in obvious, and less so obvious ways. You don’t have to work hard to follow the concept, but can constantly look for symbology that supports the show, and find it readily. I am sure I missed a lot, and will try to find more next viewing. A F-horn feature is super effective and tasty. Relentless is the best word I can think of to describe the show overall. Is this the hardest show ever attempted? It is hard to imagine they are already achieving so much. This may be their best hornline and percussion sections ever. Yes, I know that is saying a lot, but such is certainly my initial impression, and that is what I am reflecting here. The ending was a let down. I am sure it will change.

What they seem to have going for them at this time: Talent, talent, talent. Taking calculated risk. Defying anyone to win the demand argument but them, but with a show that when perfected, may defy belief. The show concept is allowing them to explore electronic use more than they have. Opportunities to present the theme visually seem nearly endless. And, like Crown, they have done what I think champions should do (I know it has been a few seasons now); this show is what we know from this corps as well as a lot of brand new versions of themselves. This may be them learning from Devils, but putting those lessons into their own brand and style in a way that forces BD to be possibly better than they have ever been before. Wow! Blown away.

Questions/concerns:

Can they win? This may be an unstoppable freight train that has endless fuel. Again, only my first viewing and in a theater, but this was my overwhelming impression. What will they do to up their creative and appealing use of electronics in comparison to their competition? How will they balance out all the sounds we are hearing in the thickly scored sections? How will they respond to their competitors’ arguments against them in critique? Can they change, add, clean at a rate that will propel and pace them to their best performance occurring on final’s night? My best to them this summer.

Edited by tigger2
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agree up and down the board - great review & thanks for taking the time... lots of interesting observations too!

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Thanks so much for your detailed and insightful review. I appreciate how well it is written. It certainy has me more eager to see the corps.

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Fantastic review. I hope to see more. Where was your theatre?

The D.C area.

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