All I can say is, “Wow!” “Drumline Live,” the stage adaptation of the endearing feature film, “Drumline,” recently marched into the Merriam Theater for two high-energy performances, reminding enthusiastic audiences why everyone loves a parade.
Exploding with colorful costumes, blazing brass solos, lighthearted comedy and mind-blowing musicianship, “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. Roberts was recruited by “Drumline” producer Dallas Austin to serve as executive band consultant for the film.
The dynamic 30-member HBCU Band was chosen through nationwide auditions that included stops in Texas, Virginia, Atlanta and Florida, as well as online auditions, and while the collegiate “drumline” theme is continuous throughout, the show essentially explores the evolution of Black music in America, from swing to R&B to hip-hop, featuring tunes by artists ranging from Ray Charles to Nicki Minaj.
The story is told via a video narration, along with a lively commentary by host Slater Thorpe. A particularly engaging segment of the highly interactive show is “American Soul,” which revisited the days of the Uptown Theater and featured performances by “The Supremes,” “Tina Turner,” “Aretha Franklin,” “James Brown” and of course, the Temptations.
Having a bit of fun at the legendary vocal group’s expense, one of the “Temps” quit right in the middle of the show, leaving them short-handed. Turning to the audience for a quick replacement, a young man named Jay from Atlanta was willing to step in at a moment’s notice — kind of. After being escorted onto the stage by one of the show’s four dancers and given a jacket, Thorpe asked “Are you ready to do this?” and without hesitation, Jay answered, “No!” Even so, he gamely Temptation Walk-ed his way through a lively rendition of “My Girl,” drawing a supportive ovation from the crowd.
The audience continued to be a big part of the show, as members of the HBCU drumline took their snares drums out into the house just before the second half of the show and let brave young drummers in the audience show everyone what they could do.
During “Halftime,” the pageantry of an authentic HBCU halftime show was somehow duplicated in the confines of the Merriam stage, and while the drummers are widely celebrated, I must give props to euphonium players Clifton Robinson and Anthony Charles of FAMU, who held it down throughout the entire show. Although the drums are definitely more glamorous, the euphonium is the universal sound of the American marching band.
In the highly anticipated “Ultimate Drum Battle,” two supremely talented percussionists went head to head, thrilling the crowd with speed, precision and athleticism that had folks cheering as if they were at a football game.
Alive with the cool choreography and inimitable swagger that are synonymous with Black college marching bands, “Drumline Live,” truly is the ultimate family experience.