Having a 'BLAST!'

'Blast!' promotes the American musical tradition, a local cast member says.
"Blast!" may be a thing of the past on Broadway, but this show will go on in cities across the country.
The lavish marching band production -- this year's Tony Award winner for best theatrical event -- was one of five casualties on the Great White Way last Sunday. Overall ticket sales were 80 percent below normal in the days after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, according to American League of Theaters and Producers. Shows that didn't close have sought other relief, such as negotiating temporary pay cuts with trade unions.
"Blast!" began its open-ended road tour Sept. 4 in Peoria, Ill. In Pittsburgh, where the show opens Tuesday, it's been business as usual.
"We have been grateful that sales have remained consistent so far," said Melissa Walters, director of marketing for the Mellon Pittsburgh Broadway Series.
Local performer: Keith Hallas of Poland plays trombone in the "Blast!" tour. He believes there's an inherent apple pie-quality to the show.
"I think it has that American musical tradition to it," Hallas said. The cast meets audience members in the theater lobby after every performance. He's heard people say how much "Blast!" reminds them of their high school marching bands.
The roots of "Blast!" are in the drum corps Star of Indiana, but this is more than a halftime show. Like the Broadway percussion show "Stomp," it requires music and movement of its 48-member cast. A wide variety of instruments are used. Drills are synchronized and colorful. The music spans classical, blues, jazz and rock genres.
The charm of "Blast!" lies in "the uniqueness and its presentation," Hallas said. It's a show that literally connects with audiences, since performers are trained to interact with guests.
Background: Hallas, 23, graduated from Poland Seminary High School in 1996 and last May from Youngstown State University. He was in marching bands and other musical ensembles at both schools. He had also traveled with a drum and bugle corps in recent summers and played in the orchestra for a professional theater company in Georgia.
Hallas earned a music degree with emphasis on education at YSU Dana School of Music, but he didn't want to become a teacher right away.
"I guess I always had a belief, especially as it relates to teaching, that the great teachers had experience," he said.
The same day Hallas received his diploma from YSU, he left for Orlando, Fla., to begin summer-long rehearsing for "Blast!" The cast used facilities at Walt Disney World in exchange for performing 30-minute versions of its show for Disney visitors, he said.
"Blast!" pulls together all of Hallas' loves -- marching band, theater, singing and acting.
"I love performing and I'll always play my instrument. This will be something I'll do for a couple years" before returning home to earn a masters degree, he said.
The tour has been booked through June 2003. Hallas would agree to extend his one-year contract if he's asked, he said.
Just as military bands were assembled to raise soldiers' spirits during times of war, Hallas hopes people will find temporary solace in "Blast!"
"Music and things like this are -- and especially at the current time -- easier ways for people to come out and slip away. I guess it's kind of like watching a movie and forgetting about your day's work," he said.

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