The world recognizes Erich Weisz – aka, Harry Houdini – for his ability to escape practically anything that confined him: handcuffs, prison cells, straitjackets, or his elaborate Chinese water torture device. Yet he could not escape his own pride and great expectations. In 2010, the Blue Stars perform a dark, fast-paced rendition of Houdini's life documenting his rise to glory, the intense love for wife and mother, and his final demise. On Friday, June 11, the Blue Stars premiered a standstill musical performance of their summer program, aptly named "Houdini," before more than 100 enthusiastic supporters at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. In the first movement, the production features music by Phillip Glass to set the stage for Houdini's straitjacket escape. Halfway through, the front ensemble percussion and color guard slow things down in a moment between Houdini and his wife, what brass arranger Frank Sullivan calls the only "feel-good moment" of the show before Houdini's tragic end. Suddenly, the tempo jumps to 212 beats per minute with music by contemporary composer John Adams and an original composition by Sullivan.
Arranger Frank Sullivan talks about the design of 'Houdini.'
"It's been a very exciting first three weeks for the Blue Stars," said Andrew Tremblay, a first-year mellophone player in his last year of marching eligibility. "Day in and day out it's hard, but it's a very rewarding process." The corps stayed at the Indiana School for the Deaf for all-day rehearsals until Saturday morning, before members took their first bus ride to Wisconsin for the last stretch of the pre-season. In 2010 the Blue Stars have more days of spring training than in years past, giving newer members extra time to adjust to the rigors of tour life. "The most difficult part of the day is probably waking up in the morning," Tremblay said. "I'm not exactly a morning person, but it's always nice knowing that [although] I have a long day ahead of me, I'm not doing it alone." Snare drummer Tim Perry expressed the same sentiment toward getting up early, but as a three-year Blue Stars veteran, it's all routine. He is equally excited about this year's production.
The drum line warms up outside before the performance.
"I think [the audience] is going to be blown away," Perry said. "I feel like this is a new era for the Blue Stars now. It's a darker show, with a little bit more of a minor musical touch than major, but I think fans are going to be surprised." Visual staff member Mike Neptune estimated the average age of the members to be about 19, which is on par with a 19.41 average for all corps. He is optimistic about the corps members' enthusiasm and ability to work together. "There's a really cool chemistry this year," Neptune said. "[It's] not something you can create or really anticipate or force to happen, but things are clicking right now." Neptune hopes going back to the corps' home state of Wisconsin for the rest of spring training will give younger members a chance to meet alumni and learn more about the corps' storied history. He said that since so many members are in their first year, they haven't seen the end result of their hard work. "We're focused on getting better every single block of rehearsal," Neptune said. "You can't think about what other people are doing. I guess it's 'clean your own house,' to use an overused clich?©. Right now we're focused on the corps and on trying to make this production the best possible."
The brass section performs the 2010 production.
Bass drum staffer Chris Watson is pleased with the progress of the battery percussion section. "We're really happy with where they're at, and I think every one of those guys wearing a drum is giving everything they've got." Watson also said much of the drum staff is fairly young, with himself and others finishing their junior drum corps careers a few years ago. "We're fresh and the drummers are fresh." Like the great magician himself, the corps has its own tricks up its sleeves. "The other bass staff member and I have been talking a little bit about it, maybe we'll make them disappear, maybe drop a cloth over them or something," Watson said, though whether jokingly or not is yet to be seen this early in the season. Expectations for the Blue Stars are not only high among staff and members, but among spectators as well. Tremblay is excited to be in a corps that he feels is up-and-coming among the ranks of Drum Corps International. But he's not taking his drum corps experience for granted, especially in his last year of eligibility. "This is my first and last year as a Blue Star," Tremblay said, "I'm very happy to be spending [the season] here. You know, I've only got one shot to do this the right way." View a photo gallery from the Blue Stars' Grand Premiere performance. Don't miss the Blue Stars and all 2010 Drum Corps International groups on the road this summer! View the complete 2010 DCI Tour schedule. With assistance from Kayla Murphy. Photos by Ryan Cain.
The front ensemble hits it hard during the debut performance.