Published Wednesday, October 26, 2011, 4:05 PM
The most important takeaway for anyone reading this review is this: Even at this late time, change whatever plans you have for tonight and spend $35 for a ticket to the second of the two shows that the international tour of DRUMLine Live is performing in Philadelphia, tonight at 7:30 PM at Center City’s Merriam Theater. (For those for whom this is not possible, there will be a performance not that far away in Bethlehem on Sunday, December 4.)
It is that outstanding. Seriously.
Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner attended the first of the two performances last night, basically as an afterthought. Never having experienced — as presumably is the case for most whites and most Northeasterners — a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) football halftime marching band show, the experience was pretty much new.
The performers were chosen from the best of the best from HBCU bands through the years, and the show certainly includes the most well-known parts of HBCU halftime shows: a drumline, a “step show” and a drum face-off.
Perhaps most consistently remarkable during the overall performance was the skill with which incredibly talented musicians simultaneously danced (always with a sense of fun and spontaneity, and often with a sense of humor).
But there was so much more to the show: a quasi-Halloween scene, a virtuoso saxophone performance, a gospel revival, a tribute to African drumming traditions, as well as countless other aspects. The energy level — including among pretty much the entire crowd, and starting relatively soon after the show began — never dissipated.
The closest Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner can come to criticism is that he could have done without the but-no-more-than-ten seconds in which there was a brief allusion to Barack Obama. Additionally, while the short performances of “Tina Turner,” “Aretha Franklin,” “The Temptations,” “The Supremes,” “Stevie Wonder” and even “James Brown” were quite excellent, Michael Jackson is, predictably enough, apparently too unique a talent for even someone from this brilliant cast to impersonate all that convincingly.
Don P. Roberts, the show’s creator and director (as well as executive band consultant for the Twentieth Century Fox hit movie Drumline) emphasized to Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner, prior to the show, the role of spontaneity within the HBCU marching-band tradition, mentioning: “One thing about traditions is that they’re never planned.”
Roberts also added, more generally: “It doesn’t matter if an audience member is black or white. It’s a beautiful cultural tradition that we want to share further with the world. Everyone’s going to be caught off-guard. It’s at a high level.”
It might be indicative that this writer called his sister earlier today to urge her to change whatever plans she had for tonight and take her 9- and 7-year-old sons, just starting to get into music themselves, to the show. It is hard to imagine any kind of performance that would cause children to become more enthusiastic about music in general.