The grand and glorious Cook Group Inc. and Star of Indiana National Tour of Blast! — now playing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of Broadway Series South — is the ultimate football half-time show. Inspired by the most imaginative performances of the nation’s premier drum and bugle corps, Blast! is magnificent half-time musical extravaganza. It is what the National Football League should present at half time on the next Super Bowl, but never will.

Blast! artistic director James Mason, acting director George Pinney, musical director James Prime, and staging director Jonathan Vanderkolff have quite simply revolutionized the concept of the drum and bugle corps. In devising this one-of-a-kind entertainment, they not only “think outside the box,” but they dispense with the box altogether and work their mesmerizing musical magic with 54 youthful performers, aged 21 to 33, who are not only crackerjack marching musicians, but superbly conditioned athletes who hold more than 40 world titles among them. They really strut their stuff during an imaginative two-act program that begins with a blazing rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero.”

Other highlights include Adam Ripa’s soaring trumpet riffs on Maynard Ferguson’s “Everybody Loves the Blues”; Frank Sullivan’s haunting trumpet solo on “Loss” (D. Ellis); drum soloists Nicolas E. Angelis and David Brent Ellis’ sizzling snare-drum competition on “Battery Battle” (T. Hannum/J. Lee/P. Rennick); brassy solos by Frank Sullivan (flugelhorn), Amy Sanchez (French horn), and Jeremy Grange (tuba) on Chuck Mangione’s “Land of Make Believe”; Vincent D. Oliver’s marimba solo on “Spiritual of the Earth”; and spirited solos by Frank Sullivan (flugelhorn), Adam Ripa (trumpet), and James D. Lutz (trombone) on “Malaguena” (E. Lecuona).

Featured dancers Deborah Barrigan and Jeremiah T. Huber also get to kick up their heels during the “Malaguena” grand finale that brought the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium audience to its feet for an enthusiastic lengthy standing ovation Tuesday night.

These world-class performers — divided into brass, percussion, and visual ensembles — repeatedly demonstrate the eyebrow-raising virtuosity and versatility that helped the original Broadway production Blast! earn the 2001 Tony® Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and the 2001 Emmy Award for Best Choreography. The flashy choreography — credited to Jim Moore, Pinney, and Vanderkolff — employs artfully twisted batons and an eye-catching variety of colorful flags and other props in place of the traditional rifles hoisted and flipped and whirled and ultimately shouldered by an accompanying military drill team. These dazzling dance routines, which make full use of two ramps down to the auditorium floor, perfectly accent the musical ebb and flow.

The combined genius of scenic and costume designer Mark Thompson, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, and sound designer Tom Morse make Blast! a veritable feast for the eye and the ear. Blast! is a must-see musical, so buy your ticket today. You will not see such pageantry and showmanship again, unless Broadway Series South books an encore presentation of Blast! for an upcoming season.

Broadway Series South presents Blast! Friday, March 7, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 8, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 9, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $16-$66. 919/834-4000 or Groups of 20+: 919/231-4575 or [inactive 4/04] or