If you’re a fan of the highly entertaining feature film “Drumline,” starring the engaging Nick Cannon and depicting life at Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), as well as the guts and glory of Black college marching bands, you’ll want to experience “Drumline Live,” the colorful, high energy adaptation coming to the stage of the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, October 25–26 at 7:30 p.m.
“Drumline Live” is the brainchild of Atlanta native Don P. Roberts, a former Florida A&M University (FAMU) drum major who began his musical journey as a trumpeter. An educator who has served as the instrumental music coordinator of the DeKalb County School System since 1996, Roberts was recruited by “Drumline” producer Dallas Austin, an accomplished drummer who is also an Atlanta native, to serve as executive band consultant for the film.
“Drumline Live,” directed by Roberts and originally dubbed ‘Halftime Live,’ was initially adapted for the stage on a much smaller scale in 2005, and exploded into an aural/visual spectacle when powerful Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI) stepped in and took the production worldwide.
“For those people that are coming and expecting to see ‘Drumline,’ the movie, I want to give a disclaimer: This is better!” Roberts said during a recent interview. “If you liked ‘Drumline,’ you’re going to love ‘Drumline Live!’ If you see us in person on drums and horns — all up in your face, and the music and choreography — it’s an experience that is totally indescribable.”
Touring with a six-member technical crew, the 30-member cast of the two-hour production was chosen through nationwide auditions that included stops in Texas, Virginia, Atlanta and Florida, as well as online auditions. “Our group is an all-star group composed of the best band talent, singing talent, drummers, etc., from the Black colleges all around the country,” said Roberts.
Boasting a musical smorgasbord that ranges from contemporary to hip-hop to Motown and gospel, Roberts describes “Drumline Live” as “the HBCU experience.”
“People say, ‘Okay, what does that mean?’ when you talk about the Black college and that experience. Before there was Usher, there was James Brown and Michael Jackson,” Roberts explained. “So Black college marching bands didn’t just start marching in the year 2000. These bands got started in the ’50s and ’60s, etc. — FAMU in the ’40s. We delve into a historical perspective where you’re going to get music from the ’60s. You’re going to get music from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and you’re going to get the present day music as well. You’re going to get a little bit of Nicki Minaj, but you’re gonna also get The Temptations. You might get a little Aretha Franklin. We touch every generation from about the 1930s. This is for the family — every age, from five years old to 95 years old.” Recently appointed as the associate producer and executive band consultant for the ESPNU Television series, “The Battle,” which features some of America’s best HBCU marching bands, Roberts says that “Drumline Live” audiences should “prepare for the unexpected.”
“This show is absolutely the most dynamic, exciting theatrical production to come out in years. These are big words, but every time people see the show, they tell me I was right! I don’t think there’s anything that‘s comparable, and I go to shows all the time. I feel like there’s some really good shows out there, but there’s nothing like us. We touch every emotion in your body. We’re going to make you sing, we’re gonna make you shout, we’re gonna make you cry, we’re gonna make you smile, we’re gonna make you laugh — we touch all of the emotions. You will totally be surprised by the things that you see in the show, and that’s one of the beautiful things about it.” For tickets and information call (215) 893-1999 or visit www.kimmelcenter.org