In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

The Blue Man Group is playing Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center through Sunday. (PHOTO: Ken Howard)

Turning the Marcus Center Blue

At Blue Man Group's curtain calls at the Marcus Center this week, the stagehands join the cobalt-colored performers and the band in the big long line, taking bows. You don't see techies onstage lapping up the applause very often, and their presence at the end of the 90-minute show is significant.

The three bald and mute Blue Men may be the stars, but they are completely reliant on a wizard's array of high tech flash and dazzle to make the extravaganza work. Those stagehands are mighty important.

The Blue Man Group is an entertainment phenomena that began 20 years ago in New York as something of a dialogue-free spoof of performance art. Its creators – Chris Wink, Philip Stanton and Matt Goldman – were the original performers until they left the stage to concentrate on turning their idea into an international show biz juggernaut.

Like Cirque du Soleil, BMG has multiplied and evolved in numerous directions. It has become a permanent fixture in Boston, Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas. It currently has companies in Tokyo and Berlin.

You can even see the Blue Men on a cruise ship, the new Norwegian Epic.

Visual art and the science of vision continue to have a place in the productions, but the material has been broadened to be more of a spectacle.

Under the BMG creative umbrella, a show was created for large rock concert venues. The Marcus Center production is part of the first national Blue Man tour designed for theatrical spaces similar to Uihlein Hall.

At its most basic level, the Blue Man Group is about the old art of clowning. Think Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Lucy grappling with all of those chocolates on the conveyor belt.

Add layers of pulsating rock music and lighting, contemporary attitude, vaudevillian gags and gimmicks, and now digital technology, which didn't exist when the Blue Men first appeared, and you have an idea of what the controlled mayhem at the Marcus Center is all about.

The show, which deserves a PG rating, attracts children and teens as well as adults. Its series of sketches bounce between the clever and the sophomoric.

"Screen hopping" is a fun example of the former. The Blue Men glide back and forth between their real and digital images, which are on large rectangular screens that resemble smart phones. One of them becomes Carmen Miranda, complete with maracas, sashaying through open space and screens.

The Blue Men's historic obsession with tubes and pipes is wittily illustrated by them sliding the cylinders like trombones while pinging them with sticks. A tune results.

A vignette focused on the trio eating Twinkies with a member of the audience is expertly realized classic clowning.

An old BMG routine involving the loud consumption of Cap'n Crunch cereal out of the box is aimed straight at a kid's sense of humor, and a session of throwing dye-filled marshmallows into the mouth of a Blue Man goes on for too long.

Shooting, spewing and spraying paint and goo is another signature BMG stunt, and those who find that endlessly entertaining won't be disappointed here. The finale is capped by blowing unfurling rolls of toilet paper into the audience, and that proves one thing.

The Blue Man Group may have embraced the digital age, but you just can't beat TP-ing Uihlein Hall for laughs.


hardgeminiguy | Jan. 5, 2012 at 2:14 p.m. (report)

I saw BLUEMAN GROUP in Chicago when it opened there in 1985 so how do you get 20 years? Very much enjoyed the 1985 show--was wonderful. A friend saw it there and bougfht me a $50 ticket he liked it so much. I drove down from Milwaukee and saw it. A great show! but, now it is a medicore show at best. Far too commercial. The original charm of the show is GONE. The graphics are over-whelming--far too many. None would be better.I came to see BLUEMAN GROUP--not splashey "so-called" art work constantly filling the walls. I was, extremely, disapointed and wish i had not wasted my money and time. They MUST get back to the basics and not keep trying to out-do their stage settings. I do not recommend the show. GET THE CHARM BACK INTO THE SHOW, PLEASE!

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