The show succeeded with its energy, sincerity and heart.
Capitalizing on the success of the 2002 film Drumline, about the marching band of a historically black college, DRUMline Live is a high-energy musical revue that on Saturday night brought a 40-piece marching band off the football field and onto the stage of Overture Hall.
The show opened with a cheesy, low-budget video, an awkward juxtaposition with the pomp and grandeur of the venue. My hopes for this 2.5-hour production sank to my feet. But then a spotlight -- and then another, this one two feet from where I stood -- illuminated performers in traditional Zulu dress, beating djembe hand drums. And then silence. The room was electrified.
The next two and a half hours were a musical voyage through black music, gospel to Motown to hip-hop, arriving of course at the brassy, blasting, get-on-your-feet-and-clap sounds of the marching band.
Performers were chosen from the marching bands of historically black colleges and universities across the country, and the talent is truly incredible. Florida A&M's Larry J. Smith II had a saxophone solo that nearly brought the audience to its feet, and the James Brown imitation by Houston's Larry Allen was the most entertaining I've ever seen.
Revues like this often drag as the show goes on, but this one seemed to gain steam. For the first few numbers, I was skeptical. The dancing was surprisingly sloppy, and the video segues were goofy and plodding. But by the end of the first act, I was energized. The best parts of this show are the audience interactions, which are almost constant. Performers dance and sing in the aisles, pulling the audience to their feet -- even pulling them onstage. The kids in the audience were dancing in their seats, and a few adults were, too. I've never seen an audience so loose at an Overture Hall show.
Some audiences may be disappointed by how little of the show consists of marching band tunes. For a show with 'drum' in the title, most of the drum work doesn't come until the second act, though when it does, it arrives in style, with a show-stopping drum battle and an ear-splitting half-time show.
Glenda Morton's costumes are colorful and fun. Xavier Pierce's lighting is inventive, but sometimes distractingly so, frequently blinding the audience while casting performers in a murky glow. Choreography by Jacques Bell and Tovah Lovely is a highlight. My favorite piece of the night was a glow-in-the-dark dance number to a top 40 R&B medley.
For all the show's technical shortcomings, it won me over with its energy, its sincerity, and its heart. It's a show that asks a lot of its audience, so if you go to Sunday's performance, bring a lot of energy -- and maybe some ear plugs.