Combining the popularity of the movie “Drumline” and the theatrical production “Blast!,” the new stage show “DRUMLine Live” is engaging audiences around the world with its energetic HBCU-style performance.
Eight years after its release, the 2002 movie “Drumline” still remains as one of the most prominent film portrayals of a marching band as well as one of the few representations of Historically Black College and University (HBCU) bands in popular culture.
Now, elements of the film and the HBCU culture come to life on stage in a musical revue called “DRUMLine Live.” Similar to other music-based theatrical productions such as “STOMP” or “Blast!,” the show consists entirely of musical numbers without a plot or specific characters.
“After the success of the movie, we realized that this wasn’t just regional; it was an interest nationally—in marching bands and in HBCU style,” says Reggie Brayon, CEO and producer. “We started looking at it and contemplating how we could take this to the masses. We thought about putting HBCU style on stage, which was the most economical way we could do it.”
Brayon worked with Don P. Roberts, chief marching band consultant for the movie “Drumline,” to create “DRUMLine Live.” In 2007, their original stage production performed several dates. The success of that show led to a partnership with Columbia Artists Management, Inc., and in 2008 to 2009, a full-scale tour of “DRUMLine Live” launched in the United States and Japan.
This season the tour began in Tokyo, Japan, and then traveled to Seoul, Korea. In October, the group will return to the United States with confi rmed show dates through February 2011.
“People think marching band is just what you do at a game,” Brayon says. “But we try to do various types of music: big band, gospel, singing, greek stepping is a part of the show, percussion ensemble, Ray Charles, hip-hop.”
“DRUMLine Live” innovates by putting a heavy focus on audience participation. “We do a gospel scene where we sing the song ‘Amen’ along with the audience,” says cast member Eddy Falcon. “And there’s a part during the intermission where all the drummers go out into the audience and teach them.”
The audience involvement is a highlight for the performers. “My favorite element is interacting with the audience and getting into the crowd and getting them on stage and playing some drums with them,” says cast member Jason Price. “I like to get them excited and pull them into the show; it’s more their show than our show really.”
The 39 performers were selected for “DRUMLine Live” through open casting calls. According to Brayon, 85 percent of the cast are HBCU alumni. Price played at Florida A&M University and performed as the drum double for Nick Cannon in the movie “Drumline.”
“I’m used to auditioning, but it was a little different because I’m not used to auditioning in front of all the other people,” Price says. “You have to play, act and sing, so that was different; it was my first time singing.”
Falcon is one of the few cast members who did not attend an HBCU but has a drum corps background, previously performing in several Drum Corps Associates groups as well as The Cadets. His show band experience comes from the Brooklyn Steppers during his high school years. In 2008 he toured with “Blast!”
“‘Blast!’ is more regimented and precise to the point,” Falcon says. “‘DRUMLine’ is more about your energy; it’s like one big party on the stage almost. In ‘Blast!’ you’re more into character and portraying different emotions and colors whereas for this, you’re trying to bring the energy and interact with the crowd.”
The cast members live and work together while on tour, which leads to a familylike atmosphere. For Falcon, spending time with fellow cast members has educated him on the HBCU experience.
“I feel like I went to every single HBCU that everyone in the cast went to because everyone had such a great experience,” Falcon says. “You sit down with someone, and they tell you what they did, and another person had a completely different experience—it’s all the same, but it’s all unique at the same time.”
From Musician to Celebrity
The show itself requires a high level of physicality from the cast members. “I’m in every scene, so I’ll be singing, dancing, playing, marching, laughing and joking,” Price says. “At this point I’m an actor and not just a percussionist.”
Costume changes and hot stage lights also add to the stress of the performers. “We have about eight or nine costume changes, and a couple of them are layered on,” Price says. “You could pass out on stage if you’re not in shape or fit.”
Stateside the first tour sold out 70 percent of its shows with the rest selling at least 50 percent of the seats. Brayon is hopeful that the production will continue to fi nd success and someday have several different entities similar to the “Blast!” or “Cirque du Soleil” business models.
“Our first tour we were just so overwhelmed with the great response that we got,” Brayon says. “It’s a lot of family fun in the theater; we’re a show where everybody can have fun, for kids and adults.”
Audiences in Japan have an even stronger reaction that surprised the show’s producers and performers. “People were running to us and grabbing us and wanting autographs and taking photos, and they were more into it than the States and the Americans. That’s what got me geared up and took me to a better level of performing like: ‘They’re really into it; I need to put out!’”
According to Falcon, educating new audiences about the HBCU marching bands is one of the greatest rewards. “I want them to feel what the real HBCU experience is like: the history of the music and how it’s infl uenced the entire world, this entire world,” he says.
Price agrees. “I want them to be totally shocked and blown away, seeing something they’ve never had a chance to see before, know a culture they’ve never seen,” he says. “I want them to understand more about this marching band and HBCU culture, wondering how they can be a part or get involved.”
Check www.drumlinelive.com for a show near you.
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she is currently a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.