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Quick Prelims Observations from the Theater

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Some observations from last night's screening. Sound was just right and theater attendance was solid.

I'm including a little commentary from my wife, who's a brilliant color guard/design mind. This was my second/third viewing for most groups, whereas this was my wife's first for all.

Apologies to Academy and Troopers. Got out of work late. I look forward to seeing those shows and the rest of Wold Class/Open Class.

Just a warning, I have some strong feelings about Colts show. A lot of the review is geared towards it.

Colts (second viewing): I love Colts and want them back in finals, and I totally love the overall direction this staff is taking them in, but I have some opinions that I want to let out ...

I originally watched this from the side in June and enjoyed it, but seeing the finished product is a different story. The show has plenty of corps-gasmic moments with an easier storyline to follow (compared to last year's), but the story that it's built on is ... just bad.

What was the mystery? Why should I care about any of the characters? Why would anyone think " ... one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest" is a clever line? WHY IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IN THIS SHOW -- THAT'S SUPPOSEDLY INSPIRED BY 1940s-ERA RADIO DRAMAS -- SUDDENLY SINGING A SAM SMITH BALLAD?!?

There's serious, finals-worthy talent in this corps. Visual performance continues to be a strength for them, and they are well-ahead of last year's corps musically (hornline is especially underrated). They have a great design staff, but this "Dick Tracy Lite" story isn't well thought-out. The audience only has 12 minutes to get to know these characters, no where near enough time to make any real emotional connection*. The actors and corresponding guard performers are fantastic in their roles, but there's only so much they can do.

I commend Colts' staff for doing something different, but if they want to keep doing narrative-based shows, find something that works in a 12-minute window that TRULY engages the audience.

*BD 97 works because it evokes specific emotions from Casablanca ... even if you've never seen it, you know how it ends ... you recognize the emotions behind the story. Their show doesn't try to retell the whole #### thing in 12 minutes.

... moving on ...

Crossmen (1st viewing): Fun show driven by fun music (glad to hear "Jubal Step" again). Takes the "Above and Beyond" concept to its logical extreme with paper airplanes and parachutes. Good use of props and tarps. Field music ensemble is well-staged for big music GE moments, especially in the ballad. It's smartly programmed and -- barring some epic collapse in semis -- will be another vehicle that takes them back into finals.

Blue Stars (1st viewing): My wife and I were divided on this one. She enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the opening flag work being dirty. I didn't care for it. IMO, it's a show that's confused about itself. Is it supposed to be mysterious and creepy? Fun and cheesy yet self-aware?

It's too emotionally fragmented, and the show suffers for it. Lots of neat moments, and a fantastic ballad that features "Send in the Clowns," but no real development. Last year's show worked because the concept was unique and allowed so much room for growth. It also had some real emotion to draw from. Carnival freaks and rigged games ... not so much.

Boston Crusaders (1st viewing): Wow. I had no idea what to expect from this show. All I knew was it had the "Game of Thrones" theme and "Conquest." I didn't expect it to be this epic, nor did I expect a vocal soloist to dominate this show. Great use of color and the wooden centerpiece stage. Amazing performance by the guard.

Right now, I still prefer last year's bleak and uncompromisingly difficult show, but another viewing or two of "Conquest" might change my mind.

Cavaliers (2nd viewing): As much as I like seeing Madison in the top 8 again, I think Cavaliers are still outperforming them. Lots of effective changes since I last saw them at DCI Minnesota (see previous review). This show has really grown on me, but I still disagree with the designers' insistence on making the "game" in this show vague. It's like watching a really long Nike commercial.

I love the dark, rich hornline sound. The opener displays this perfectly. The talent throughout the rest of the corps is readily apparent as well. They just need a different vehicle to work with.

Madison Scouts (3rd viewing): I had faith in the slightly new design team and predicted their ceiling to be 8th place, but I didn't actually think they'd place this high. Smart visual design. Bold music arrangements. Classic Madison.

There were some weird visual ticks from the horns and guard midway through the show, but otherwise a really solid run.

I can't wait to see what this staff does next year.

Phantom Regiment (1st viewing): Not the best show in the post-Shaw/Rennick era, but it sure as hell isn't the worst. Regardless of what some people think about the program staff, the instructional staff gets it done every year and inspires some amazing performances from the members.

Does the show design truly embody the full majesty and grandeur of Paris? No, but there's enough of an emotional arc to make it work.

Shout-out to the helmet-less snare player: you rocked it dude. Great job.

Blue Knights (1st viewing): Barring some come-from-behind upset from Phantom (which could still happen), it will be a weird journey back to 6th place for BK. It's been 16 years since they last finished in that spot. After surviving "Blue Toons" and coming close with "Dark Knights," they seem to be securely locked-in with "Because."

I'm really digging this new identity they're forming. It's hard to describe, but I can definitely say that it's working. It's no longer a so-so music ensemble riding on the coat-tails of a decent visual program ... this is a complete corps that's doing something new for the activity.

Colors are diminished throughout the show until the very end, when some bright painted silks make another appearance. Great "quiet" ending.

Hard to fully digest this show. I definitely need to give it another viewing.

Santa Clara Vanguard (2nd viewing): Such a fun show that's pure Vanguard. Didn't notice much change from DCI Minnesota. I would rank this among Rennick's/Shaw's best. Sort of a shame that it's firmly planted in at 5 position. It was a powerful performance of a spectacularly-designed show. Has many great moments and no bad moments ... but the competitive field is ridiculous this year. Hoping they find a way to break through next year.

Blue Devils (2nd viewing): Scott Chandler's vision makes total sense. Even though there's weird moments (ok ... 1 weird moment ... but I've already talked about the K-Pop break in another review. I think it works), the show understands story structure (YOU HEAR THAT COLTS DESIGNERS?!?). The guard does characterization well and traverses the strange story-book landscape. There's still the same elite performance quality we come to expect.

So why isn't this show as popular as last year's?

I think my wife touched on a large part of it: BD isn't good at being sentimental. BD can be cool, professional, cold-blooded, clean, uncompromising, or even straight up difficult to like ... but not sentimental.

The little girl at the end of the show ("C" corps member?) is a sweet touch though. If BD wins, would she get a ring?

Bluecoats (2nd viewing): I heard about some technical difficulties and shakey runs at previous shows. That was not the case at all last night.

Strong across all captions, especially guard and visual, which is great to see.

No matter how they place, the members of Bluecoats should be proud that they were a part of something that truly pushed the activity.

Cadets (2nd viewing): My wife couldn't get past the neon guard uniforms enough to enjoy the show. Something about them struck a chord with her. On the ride home, she vented ... saying that they were "so fundamentally ugly" and that the guard uniforms look like "1991 Magic of Orlando" (not sure if she's right ... but I laughed).

This is still one of my favorite shows, but it's driven mainly by the insanely hard-working performers. The late season uniform change does nothing.

Carolina Crown (2nd viewing): Insane improvement over their DCI Minnesota run. GE and visual is leaps-and-bounds better.

We all know about the strengths of the hornline, and the weaknesses (yet improvement) of the drums ... but the guard completely stole the show. So much demand and musicality.

Final Thoughts: There were no "meh" shows. The shows that succeeded didn't follow some previous blueprint ... they did something new. The shows that didn't succeed took huge risks that didn't pay off.

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Great review! If you don't mind, I'll piggyback off of yours, as I just wanted to add brief thoughts and we agree on a lot. :tounge2:

The Academy - my first viewing of this show. Me and the kids liked it a lot. They managed to make an aggressive drum break into a light, fun affair, and that's not easy. From the singing to the end was our favorite part.

Troopers (4th viewing) - I keep feeling like this show is *almost* a Finalist show, but having the guard character sing was a bad tactical choice. There's too much athletic activity going on to suddenly stop and nail a *very* involved singing part. This really needed someone on the sideline to cover it for her. Otherwise, great show - one of my favorites for them, actually.

Colts (first viewing) - heard it from the tunnel in San Antonio. I didn't like it without seeing it, but after viewing the whole production, I loved it! I was totally down with the radio studio pit, and thought they pulled off a lot of little touches nicely. Leaps and bounds more integrated and accessible than last year's show. (which I heard for the first time this week, too.) I do agree that the actual murder story is kind of ... weird... and not really mystery-ey, but I can roll with it.

Crossmen (2nd viewing) - love the music, love the staging, love the "feel" of the show. Hate the paper airplane and parachute props. That's the moment it went from clever to silly. Still makes me think of "Springtime for Hitler" when the dancers come out wearing German food. That's my only gripe, though - the rest of the show is rock solid, and compared to Troopers and Colts, way more musically sophisticated.

Blue Stars (3rd viewing) - Me and my kids are with your wife on this one - we loved the show. It's just twisted enough to be "not the usual" without going full-on bizarro. Love the juggler every time.

Boston Crusaders (2nd viewing, 4th hearing)- I love this show from start to finish. I have a totally appropriate corps-crush on the featured singer, who literally kills it on the field. Felt horrible for the snare who pitched backwards over the stage steps - is he okay? That looked awful. I'd have them higher if I could, but I don't know who they'd displace.

Cavaliers (3rd viewing) - this show finally clicked for me musically. Whether it's being more familiar with the music or the changes they made to the back half, the whole thing ties together. I would have had them in 7th for music and drill. Can't stand the guard uniforms, but I also can't deny they're flying around out there. Love those opening low brass chords, and the whole "march" feel of the opener.

Madison Scouts (4th viewing) - this show has grown by leaps and bounds since the June online preview, and it's less due to the design changes and more to the corps locking in to some pretty complex rhythms. When it all clicks just right, the show "pops" like very few others can do. Thrilled as heck to see them doing so well, and I hope they keep it up!

Phantom Regiment (3rd viewing, 4th hearing) - now *that's* the Phantom show we wanted to see this year! Chopping most of the vocals (I'd still remove Frank Sinatra but leave the other one) was a great choice - the hornline pulls this program off well. Love the "light" touch they bring to the whole thing - not every Regiment show has to be moody. Snare drummer FTW, as well as the horn player who picked up the helmet and finished the opener playing one handed. I'll play An American in Paris often on CD from this show.

Blue Knights (2nd viewing) - what a weird, groovy show. Last night I figured it out - BK screws with "normal" show pacing, and that will throw long-time corps viewers off. It makes the show both feel like it just started and that it lasted forever. They're locked in to 6th, and honestly, I can't argue - it's their best program in a long, long time. They make that drill look ridiculously easy.

Santa Clara Vanguard (2nd viewing) - Hah - only a drum corps arranger would say "Bach? I can improve on that." I love the LED, but wish they'd done more with it - there's not many body moves or anything once they're on. It's not one I'll listen to often, but it's one I'd be happy to watch a few more times. I agree - the competition is ridiculously tough this year - it just "feels" like a top 3 show.

Blue Devils (2nd viewing) - I have reversed my opinion - I love the K-Pop and now I don't like the rest of the show. The costuming for the stories looks ridiculous and, rare for the Blue Devils, cheap and silly. The visual is good as always, but doesn't match up with what's going on in the music. I'm glad they always wanted to tell a children's story, but can we now move on from this to newer and fresher ideas? And watching this I paid very, very close attention to drill design - I have to agree with the complainers on this; there is *much* less movement from BD's horns when compared to the other top corps. Still, horns can horn and drums can drum to an absurd degree of excellence, but I'd have put them in 4th for reals, not just because of penalty.

Bluecoats (3rd viewing) - 3rd time's the charm? Finally got to see and hear the show with all electronics deployed. I love the 'Coats, and their DM is a bona fide DCI rock star, but ... I don't like this show as much as Tilt. The music is just not as likeable. There, I said it. I applaud their willingness to throw things at the wall and see what sticks, and I can't wait to see what they think of next, but this one didn't do it for me. The ballad is still awesome, though.

Cadets (3rd viewing) - love the black. LOVE THE BLACK. Love the 10's everywhere. Love the Shostakovich. But ... the show still isn't clean, and it's showing when compared to the others. I agree 100x with your comment: "This is still one of my favorite shows, but it's driven mainly by the insanely hard-working performers."

Carolina Crown (4th viewing) - Finally! Vocals in Ode to Joy! Who knew that such a small addition would magically fix the closer for me? That did it for good - the "heaven" tarp was just icing. They should win, and quite deservedly so - that brass <shiver>. The red screen over the horns is that "championship" moment you'll see for years and years afterwards.

Thanks!

Mike

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