Blue Man Group: Blue in the Face

Blue in the Face

The Blue Man Group returns to North Texas for an entertaining show at Bass Hall.

published Thursday, June 28, 2012

A show of comedy, music and technology by the Blue Man Group is performance art about performance art. It uses art to make fun of art and technology to comment on technology. It all jives well with the dizzying recursive loopiness of the show. Performers pop in and out of screens. Camera projections slide seamlessly from live to pre-taped. With no spoken language there is plenty of broad humor to be sure, but it is slapstick done to dazzling sophisticated imagery. Amid all the splash and gags there are a few, albeit too few, high-reaching moments of true music and philosophy.

The group performs through Sunday at Bass Performance Hall, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth.

A blend of classic Blue Man bits and the Megastar show, the visuals’ hypnotic appeal help make up for the dated material. A new LED curtain and high-resolution screen backdrop spanned the width and height of stage. It could be segmented or parts drawn aside to reveal a live band on a second level. Mid-stage are suspended three 8″ by 4″ foot screens shaped like iPhones. They display a projected mix of video, animation, live camera and some really gnarly esophageal cam recordings.

The show is interestingly bookended by the familiar paint-top drum barrels, with the Blue Men beating them to send sprays of bright colors upward like fountains.  The art parody core is still there. Canvases are decorated by paint spewed by Blue Men; now canvases, they also spin to create cool spiral paintings. An audience victim is still wrapped in plastic, coated with paint, hung upside down and flung against a giant canvas. And massive amounts of marshmallows are still tossed into mouths, chewed into Blue Man goop, and spewed into the front few rows’ “poncho zone.”

Astutely wedged between the Blue Man slapstick and silliness is just enough profundity not to alienate the family-heavy audience. Truly stellar is a long bit on information overload using the smart phone-shaped suspended screens. Simultaneous and often conflicting messages appear on the screens, including truly hilarious reductions of classic literature into Twitter-length bits.

Another ambitious section presents a Socratic dialogue as a texted conversation to explore the qualities of 2-D space versus 3-D and positing whether there could be a 2.5. The need for firewalls in the real world is discussed and the question asked: “What do you mean, real?” Hopefully creators will take this avenue deeper, continuing to delve into concepts of outsider status, escape and ascension, and the preservation of innocence and wonder in the face of modernity’s cynicism.

Yet at its heart, Blue Man remains a celebration of percussion, with my drummer companion hooting in appreciation to several stellar rhythmic displays. Truly an embrace of how simply striking objects with sticks can create complex melodies embroidered with arpeggios and crescendos.

The literal core of the show, right at the midpoint, is a purely musical number using tuned PVC pipes to create a marimba like instrument over 20-feet long that is played by all three at once. The songs riff on a range from Fur Elise to anthem rock to Lady Gaga, complete with headdresses. Less musically diverse, but still loaded with mad drummer skills, is a number featuring a 10-foot drum and two walk-about drum suits of curved PVC pipes lit by LEDs that look like alien creatures.

Both were big audience favorites on Tuesday night.

A live band features two electronic drum kits, keyboards and a Chapman stick. But they rarely mesh with the Blue Men’s percussion, probably due to distance and visual disconnection. Plus the band is split into two segments on opposite sides of the stage. Yes, symmetry is esthetic, but if you’re going to have live music, put them where they can respond to each other and let them rock out. And allow them to be musicians without turning them into quazi-KISS in goofy glow-in-the dark techno suits.

Blue Man Group encapsulates the short attention spans of our times and remains tremendous fun. It’s a hard working show and attendees feel like they their get money’s worth. A nice touch is a final bow that includes the stage crew and band. In the finale, joining the traditional cannons of toilet paper and silly string, are eight gigantic featherweight bouncing LED lit beach balls. The phrase “sheer delight” is made for this experience. Sure, it’s audience pandering, but allowing people to get out of their heads and into the moment, to engage in pure emotional expression, is a great gift. Modern-day ritual masquerading as 21st century entertainment.

A note about the opening act: an LED ticker scroll. It displays a quirky sense of personality and terrific timing. Ostensibly pre-concert instructions, attendees are instructed that there would be no intermission and to “go pee now” and “no texting because it makes older audience members feel inadequate.” We are led in shouting en masse to welcome notable audience members like an astronaut and wishing happy birthday to a random attendee. LED phrases prompted us to laugh, clap and make general noise. A finely crafted warm-up.

A shout out to Texan Bhurin Sead, a Blue Man born in Bay City and raised in Granbury who did stints at University of North Texas and University of Texas at Austin getting a degree in biology. He’s performed with Blue Man Group since 2008.


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