What, pray tell, is the Blue Man Group? The name is fairly descriptive in that they are a group, made up of three men and they are, indeed, blue. Bald and blue, to be completely accurate. They are in black tunics, nondescript pants and always have blank expressions on their very blue faces. Not a word is spoken, so the whole performance takes on the quality of mime. They look like aliens, and, in the show, they move as if they are habitation-borrowed bodies. They also take on an air of being innocents from some other world or dimension in time and space.
In 1992, the New York Drama Desk had it right when they gave them the Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Finding something unique in our been-there-done-that world is totally unexpected to this skeptic and, surprise surprise, The Blue Man Group, now at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House, doesn't disappoint.
The show is a series of sketches involving music (mostly percussion played on invented and bizarre instruments), comedy routines (some sophisticated and some slapstick) and skits that make philosophical excursions into the insanity of our over-connected over-crowded and constantly online world. Frequently, the sketches involve two of the blues doing just fine and the other one, completely clueless. They frequently fail to react logically to the realities of our world, such as when one of them puts out a candle with a large industrial fire extinguisher. It is though they are experiencing our world for the first time. Periods of frenetic movement are interspersed with moments of absolute stillness, as if the hard drive of their brain is re-booting.
The percussion music is very loud and highly rhythmic, much like the accompaniment track for some yet-to-be-recorded industrial rock song. As there always is with percussionists, there is a visual element to all of the drumming, but here it is done in LSD-inspired visions. There is a backup band, made up of more drums and some electric guitars in boxes across the back of the stage, which is stacked two high and two across. The band is dressed in day-glo and black light activated colors.
The drums played by the blue men all look like they are constructed by parts from Home Depot (and they probably were). Some are pitched, thanks to large tubes attached to metal pipes; the longer the tube, the lower the pitch. Some of these look like a cancerous marimba, with the tubes made out of flexible dryer vent tubing—all curled up and looking like intestines. One instrument, which required two of them to play, used a sliding tube, much like a grotesque stovepipe trombone. Tom-tom drums sprayed phosphorescent geysers of poster paint colors four feet or so into the air. It is an explosion of sound and color.
The sketches are scattered throughout the show as interludes to the music. One blue man tosses what looked like marshmallows from about 20 feet away while the other caught them in his mouth (copious amounts, by the way). He finally spit them out to make a sculpture. The other caught balls of paint and spit them out as a spray to make a painting (which is presented to someone in the audience). Another artwork was created with the help of a man randomly from the audience. He was re-dressed in coveralls and a hood, covered in blue paint, hung from his feet, and then smashed into a large artist's framed canvas. His splattered imprint, sprayed with a red aura around the splat, became a Jackson Pollock-ish painting, later displayed in the lobby. It brought to mind a Rorschach test.
This all happened backstage, but we saw the kinky bondage scene details via a webcam projected in the hall. Another skit brought a woman onstage to join the three in a parody of a stuffy dinner party where each is served a single Twinkie. The men are amazed and flummoxed by the wrapper and the proper etiquette for such a strange meal. It isn't all that funny to begin with and goes on about twice as long as it should. One wonders what they will do now that Hostess is gone. Eating Little Debbie takes on a completely different je ne sais quoi.
Another skit involved teaching the audience moves that are required when attending a rock concert. You got the impression that those in attendance didn't need such instructions, but everyone had a fine time doing moves such as pump your fist up and down in the air, then stand up, and shake your booty. Another is a texting satire, where a pair of two-dimensional purely graphic characters are only communicating by text message and they suddenly decide to step out and enter the three dimensional world for a rave.
The grand finale features a dozen or so inflated balls (much double entendre joking about the word "balls" ensured) about 10 feet in diameter, filled with a helium mix so they stayed afloat. They are tossed out into the audience, which gleefully keeps them in the air as they change from one intense color to another to a rock-infused beat. Streamer guns start to appear and the normally much more sedate Winspear Opera House filled with bouncing balls and ticker tape.
After a while, as the effect began to fade, the Blues asked if the audience would please return their balls by batting them forward. We obliged.
◊ Go here to read our interview with Blue Man Shane Andries, a Texas native.