Sunday, June 01, 2014

Indigo Boys: Years Down the Line, Blue Man Group Remains Azure Thing -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Blue Man Group
Briar Street Theatre, Chicago
Seen May 30, 2014
Open Run

When I think of the greatest theatrical phenomenons my lifetime--in terms of success and longevity--two shows come readily to mind:

Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera.

The third is a bit more surprising. For while it doesn't quite equal the artistic achievement of those two musicals, just as astonishing--if not more so--as a commercial accomplishment is Blue Man Group.

So successful now that it's almost taken for granted, the creation of Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink has been running non-stop in New York since 1991, Boston since 1995 and Chicago since 1997.

In one venue or another, Blue Man Group has been in Las Vegas since 2000, and also Berlin since 2006, Orlando since 2007 and on a cruise ship since 2010. It has also been seen in many other U.S. and global cities, whether on tour or in dedicated runs. (Wikipedia

I first saw the show in 1999 at the Briar Street Theatre in Chicago, for a friend's birthday. It was a lot of fun, at a time I wasn't regularly going to theater productions.

I have since seen hundreds of other stage works, and my fairly standard opinion is that while I admire "performance shows"--Riverdance, Cirque du Soleil, Stomp, Fuerza Bruta and the like--I generally prefer musicals and plays with stories I can readily follow (and rock concerts by acts I know and love).

So although I never would have been opposed to seeing Blue Man Group again, and in recent years have given doing so more active thought, I have always been more enticed by other forms of entertainment, with a far greater sense of urgency. (In a bit of Yogiesque logic, many people never go to see Blue Man Group because they know they always can.)

But half-price or otherwise discounted tickets have appeared on HotTix and Goldstar with some regularity, and noting a Friday matinee performance at the lowest available price, I availed myself.

I didn't really think about this in advance, but learned upon arriving at the Briar Street Theatre--whose roughly 630 seats the rotating troupe of blue men still largely fill up to 10 shows per week--that this time of year the show attracts many school groups.

And thus I watched the Blue Man Group with a bunch of screaming teenagers, and a few older folks on the periphery.

With my HotTix ducat, I was placed amidst the last occupied row, with two empty rows both in front and behind me. Preferring aisle seats and not wishing to ask an already-seated older gentleman to stand up to let me in, I asked if I could sit on the aisle of the row behind, but was told no. Subsequently, after I had sat, an usher said that I could move, and confirmed that the row in front would not be occupied at all. But when I tried to go there, I was told I could only sit in the row not one but two behind my ticketed one.

So I wound up making the old guy get up 3 times, and snuggled between strangers, despite at least 100 empty nearby seats. As I'll convey, the show was terrific, but the customer service really blue.

This aside, while Blue Man Group would undoubtedly be fun with any crowd, seeing it with a bunch of (presumably) high school kids was optimal for anthropological purposes.

In soundbite terms--and per my eroded memory--the show is essentially what it was in 1999: Three blue-painted bald guys who bang on drums & tubes and perform quirky physical maneuvers.

Even this is considerably better than it may sound, with exciting instrumental music performed by supporting musicians, some fun audience participation bits and several rather impressive acts.

So while I wouldn't insist that my mom needs to see Blue Man Group--often a barometer for great theater, but loud music isn't really her thing--the show remains worthwhile for those who have never seen it.

And for those who, like me, saw it a good while ago, this rhapsody in blue has been rather wonderfully revamped.

Most notably, the show now employs--recurrently--three giant iPhones, put to fun use in ways that both embrace and chastise modern technology. One couldn't help but wonder what the teens were thinking about a bit that champions real-life interaction in lieu of text-only communication.

I also smiled--while also grimacing--at how, during a segment when the blue men pounded out songs on
something of a xylophone made of tubes, only the smattering of adults showed any recognition of "Smoke on the Water," "Freebird" and "Tequila."

I wanted to ask after the show--but didn't--if the performance ever changes based on the anticipated audience. I would have to guess no.

But at other parts, the kids did sing along in loud unison with Fun's "We Are Young," embraced a panoply of "Rock Concert Movements" presented by the cobalt trio & their video counterparts and danced--though many rather reservedly--during a musical bit near the end that runs through over 100 euphemisms and metaphors for one's backside.

I enjoyed these parts as well, but appreciating the literate wit of Blue Man Group, also the mention of artist Yves Klein and the fun had with Andrew Wyeth's famed Christina's World painting, which took place in conjunction with the eating of Twinkies alongside an audience member.

So although I wouldn't say I quite loved Blue Man Group on the level of the best musicals, plays or concerts, as far as performance theater goes, I don't believe there is any production I've liked more.

Despite a few risqué references and a healthy dose of rock music and allusions likely more compelling to me than those much younger or much older, as far as a fun and inventive show well-suited for all ages--and as embodied by the symbolically universal performers, people of all cultural backgrounds--years and years since it was hatched this superb show remains true blue entertainment.

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