Wednesday, April 06, 2011

THEATER: Blue Man Group

When a show runs as long as Blue Man Group (twenty years!), it's easy to take it for granted, a part of the neighborhood you, having once been there, hardly think about any more. I speak from my own experience here, since the last time I saw their show I was only thirteen years old; although I was impressed (as I was by Stomp, Blast, and other musical spectacles), I didn't give the show any further thought. I speak also from observing the audience, which seemed to be composed largely of rowdy tourists (a large group shared the "splatter zone" seats). The point is: though they seem to be having no trouble filling the theater, perhaps its time for regular theatergoers and New Yorkers to think about Blue Man Group again. After all, their shtick involves playfully looking at ordinary things anew, and we can all stand a spot of wonderment in our lives.

The first thing you've probably forgotten about Blue Man Group is that they're not just a bunch of blue-clad drummers. Yes, they like to thwack paint-filled puddles with drumsticks, and they like to experiment with the various sound-waves you can get from shortening and elongating giant tubes. But they're also a cadre of clowns, wide-eyed merry-making mimes who may pull you onstage to share a Twinkies dinner (aliens love candy, don't they?) or who may teach your children to turn eating cereal (Cap'n Crunch) into a musical adventure.

The second thing you've probably forgotten about Blue Man Group is that while they don't talk, they've got video interludes and on-screen text that's filled with some self-aware jokes and existential science. In other words, you won't just be dazzled by their colors; you'll have a neatly digestible lesson regarding the rods and cones in our retinas. You won't just be asked to shake your booty in the climactic having-a-good-time "rave" scene; you'll hear what seem like hundreds of slang terms for your behind, your trunk, your caboose, your "happy walrus with no tusks."

The third thing you've probably forgotten about Blue Man Group is that their show, which tours around the world and has permanent locations in a quite a few cities, keeps evolving its material. A xylophone-like synthesizer now allows for shout-outs not just to, say, Beethoven, but to Lady Gaga. More importantly, a variety of new segments have been added to the show that revolve around three "GiPad" devices -- iPads that are nearly twice as tall as the performers -- that descend from the ceiling and allow for some digital delights. In fact, the highlight of the show involves an illusion brought about by the "Digi-Enhance" feature of the GiPads: what begins as a series of onscreen images mirroring the live performers turns into a series of comic quick-changes, in which a Blue Man runs "into" one side of the digital image and out the other . . . only to find himself now wearing the avatar's costume. It's the most intricately timed portion of the evening, rivaled only by the physically impressive feat with which one Blue Man catches over sixteen marshmallows in his mouth -- at one time. (Kids will be rolling in the aisles; you may want to remind them not to try that at home.)

There are still a few ponderously pandering moments -- the Blue Men perhaps spend too much time wandering the theater's aisles, and a "human paintbrush" segment is charmlessly performed backstage -- but the show succeeds in leaving the audience with a sense of community and euphoria, which is the whole point. The Blue Man Group aren't just a bunch of musicians and mimes; they're ambassadors from a far-out planet, here to make friends and new discoveries, and their show remains a terrific staycation for the whole family.

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