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
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.