REVIEW: "The Blue Man Group" – Segerstrom Center for the Arts
This "Blue Man Group" Blue Me Away!
The "Blue Man Group," a tour which originally debuted in Chicago’s windy city in the 1990s, continues to draw theater-goers around the country with its high energy score, comedic antics and audience immersion. Drumming, light effects, and non-stop color are key ingredients in this untraditional, unorthodox show, which winds up its six-day run tonight with the final 6:30pm performance at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa.
The three unnamed bald blue bros walked on stage with oversized black lab coats, blank stares and heads that look like they’ve been dipped in a polymer plastic coating, and it was non-stop craziness for 90 minutes. The blues are uniquely synchronized and have an exact sense of timing. They seem to be able to create music from whatever they can get their hands on, using actual instruments, or ones that look as if it was something Rube Goldberg concocted in his back yard.
Each song (if that’s what you’d call them) grabbing miscellaneous fodder from the audience, like rattling candy boxes or combs, end up sounding like an electronic “boom bap” onomatopoeia that puts hip-hop DJ’s to shame – loud, bass-heavy, and in-your-face, but there’s no doubt that you will be bobbing your head or tapping your foot the whole time.
All of the silly things that have long endeared BMG to audiences of all ages remain: the expressive and exaggerated use of paint, the brightly colored splash drumming, the dead-pan humor. Among the three members of the cast (in which there are really four) are Meridian, Mike Brown, Steven Wendt and Adam Zuick.
Part percussive rock concert, part performance art, and part video satire, this fascinating blend of mime and sci-fi, complete with rhythmic pounding, vaudeville and futurism, was created by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink in 1988. Their impromptu “happening” show involved the burning of a Rambo doll along with a piece of the Berlin Wall, showing enough inspired irreverence to impress MTV’s Kurt Loder. Developing and fine-tuning the percussive/performance art show, it eventually opened in Chicago at The Briar Street Theatre in 1997. Currently, with almost 30 years in Chicago alone, “Blue Man Group” is perhaps the longest-running gimmick in theater entertainment—the caveat being: it’s actually entertaining.
The Blue Man takes the objects and things we see every day and turns them into a science experiment. The Blue Man character is very simple in his mindset, but he’s a trickster and very playful. And the audio visual segments in the show becomes a psychedelic spectacle! Black lights! Bright colors! Rebel music! The ambiance is pure party from a personal digital greeting at the beginning to a paper-streamer-confetti farewell.
Basically, in a mish-mash of energetic hi-jinx, the blue men, who are amazingly in-sync with razor sharp timing, don’t quite contain themselves to the stage. They come down frequently and roam through the seats, stepping over audience chairs, and inviting guests to participate in many of their bizarro schticks.
It continues to doubly confound and delight non-blue audiences. The secret of their blue-ish wisdom? Mostly it comes from the indigo threesome’s amalgam of acrobatic dexterity, their mute impassivity, and gentle parody of the audience’s favorite excesses, while continuously updating wizard-worthy tricks and creating additions and even whole new shows to the already potent mix of visual puns, physical stunts and cultural commentary.
"Blue Man Group’s" invasive, interactive, literally probing triumph is obvious as you enter: The stage seethes with piping and tubing, conduits leading to hidden hookups, an other-worldly entanglement rising high to the rafters ominously. Add to that projection screens that rival the FBI, electric pulses, lightning bolts, hidden audience cameras, and other paraphernalia that only intensifies your intrigue as you enter your seat, and your world suddenly turns tubular in a pneumatic piping sort of way.
Suddenly you’re in an audio-visual thriller with rhythmic pounding and splattering of color all over the poncho-clad front rows of the theatre (not unlike the audience of a Gallagher watermelon smashing show), and you wouldn’t have it any other way. How can they do this to the Segerstrom, you quietly think to yourself – I pity the clean-up crew at the end of the show.
But, over the decades, the interchangeable, cobalt-colored zanies have learned to spoof all the “matrix”-like techno links that imprison us as much as integrate us. In the opening, for instance, audience sections are trained to scream on cue, and you get a glimpse of the sardonic mindset of this trio of non-terrestrial cerulean chums.
Even now, the same intransigent, transgressive spirit still fuels the most compelling acts, such as pounding on giant vats of splashing water, lit in various colors and spraying like fountains from their busy drums, or deftly catching scores of flying marshmallows from 25 feet away with their mouth until they looked like a chipmunk, and then masticating them into pop art mouth sculpture.
Oh yes, the show is strange, but oddly captivating, predominantly due to the incredibly emotive performances. Most, if not all, of the tricks make some oblique cultural comment on how funny our human rituals and obsessions are. But that’s not important to understanding the show: it’s just a good time overall. There’s also a bit of dumbed-down science thrown in, but it’s played tongue-in-cheek.
And of course, part of the fun is – it’s interactive: Things like, an audience member sitting in the “splash seats” is probed with an oral scope that pretends to inspect his innards. Then, two rugged looking male audience members come onstage to help with a skit on a bench that pulls out a vast amount of props. After competing to solve a rubiks cube, they are engaged in a “learn to dance” routine that resembles a twister game, ending up in handcuffs together.
In fact, the continuously updated production features a lot more audience interaction than before as the Blue Men roam the auditorium looking for people they will drag onstage to help with their bits. One lucky audience member, a young nine-year old girl in pigtails even got to join them in playing their three squeaky rubber chicken bit. What’s missing from this particular show is the favorite pastiche involving cascading rolls of toilet paper rushing over scads of astonished audience members. Also missing were the giant illuminated beach balls bouncing around orchestra level audiences – always a fun time! A great deal of confetti, however, was involved. More than I’ve ever seen in any show, ever.
One key admonition: don’t be late to this show; BMG mercilessly makes fun of latecomers.
Other instruments used include the Light Horns (which combine sound and light, the two media the Blue Men use the most) and the Spinulum, a long upright pole-like mechanism played by spinning a disk and using a handgrip like the slide on a slide guitar.
As you might imagine, music makes up the backbone of the show, and the three blue men were accompanied by a two-man percussion band off to one-side (with a third in the wings), also in painted faces, which occasionally showcased some mind-bending riffs and soul-destroying drum beats. The style of music is eclectic as well as electric, incorporating everything from dance to world music with a distinct, progressive hard rock rachis. The rhythms seemed to have broad appeal with the diverse audience, producing a feel-good groove right away, and by the end, literally thousands of people were letting their hair down in this very odd dance party.
Inside the program, there was an incandescent flyer which acted like a glow stick in the dark, and at one directed time was waved in the air during a black light scene, then torn in small pieces and threw in the air. Seems this group loves to experiment with just about anything handy.
Blue Man Group is for everyone: kids, couples, visiting in-laws, clients, fun people, boring people, people with taste, people without taste. It’s an immersive, multi-media, comedy-rock-dance-party-show spectacle for all!
It’s a show that is pretty much guaranteed to leave you smiling - inventive entertainment of a kind you just can’t find anywhere else. From the colorful confetti dropping out of the rafters to the paint that they use to create instant art, to the audience participation towards the end, you’d have to be feelin’ mighty blue not to have fun at this show.
Composed by Andrew Schneider and Jeff Turlik, the show is written by Jonathan Knight and Michael Dahlen, and directed by Jenny Koons. Musicians were Corky Gainsford, Robert Gomez and Jerry Kops. Music Director is Byron Estep, SFX Designer is Bill Swartz and Video Designs by Lucy Mackinnon; Lighting Designer is Jen Schriever, Set Designer is Jason Ardizzone-West, Costume Designer is Emilio Sosa and Sound Designer is Crest Factor. Blue Man Character Costume Designs by Patricia Murphy; Stage Manager is Richard Herrick. A Cirque Du Soleil Entertainment Group and Networks Presentation. www.blueman.com
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report