Friday, December 28, 2012
Theater review: The Blue Man Group ignites wonder at the Winspear
Audience participation is encouraged.
DALLAS Look! Up there on the stage! It's a comedy! It's a concert! It's a party! No, wait! It's the Blue Man Group!
From the opening use of two scrolling marquees to encourage audience participation and laughter, to the finale including curly streamers being shot out of tubes into the theater, the Blue Man Group is a high-energy, entertaining spectacle. On the surface, it appears to be a show with three identical characters, each wearing nondescript black suits, blue gloves, and blue paint slathered all over their heads. In reality, the show involves three unique characters and a message which underlies the entertainment.
The Blue Man Group was founded in 1987 by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton. It has since grown to include performances around the world with over 100 blue men and musicians on tour.
The characters were developed by Wink, Goldman, and Stanton during random appearances, called "happenings" as they would walk through public areas dressed in the simple suit and blue head. The reactions of the people they met and their various expressions helped them develop both the nuances of the characters and the interactions they would have with their audiences.
The result of their efforts led to the tour I had the opportunity to see at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. Walking into the auditorium, the giant chandelier hanging from the center of the house was colored blue to set the mood, and there were two small marquees across the top of the stage.
When the performance began, the chandelier was raised into the ceiling and the marquees began scrolling words, encouraging the audience to yell if they were paying attention and calling out members of the audience for special attention. When the lights were completely down, the music began and I knew I was in for a treat.
I want to talk a little about seating. If you wish to experience the Blue Man Group at its finest, try to get seats in the front orchestra section. You will have the most interaction and the best chance for an up-close view of a Blue Man or two. This section is also where audience participants are chosen.
The first few rows of the section are called the "poncho seats" – anyone who sits there gets a complimentary clear plastic poncho to wear in case some of the materials on stage fly out into the audience. The show's website encourages attendees to wear casual clothes to this show so that it won't matter if they get messy.
Around the mezzanine and balconies there is sure to be a great view of the show, but you'll have to live vicariously through those seated in the orchestra section during some parts of the show.
The music throughout the show appeals to that primitive aspect of us that embraces the drum. Whether playing the "drumbone" or the "tubulum," the beats get the audience moving and mesmerizes them at the same time. The drumbone is a set of large PVC pipes hooked together that, when beat with a mallet, produce a unique, deep note. The pipes work like a trombone – as the pipes are slid, the note becomes higher or lower. The tubulum is a curious looking portable affair worn on the back. Its tubes wrap around the performer giving the appearance of an armchair. When struck with a mallet, the tubes emit a metallic note. All of the instruments played by the Blue Men are unique, and all involve drumming. I imagine the fellows who tour with the group get a good arm workout during each show.
There are also musicians including drummers and guitarists who easily integrate into the performance due to their costumes. They all wear plain black costumes with colorful outlines on them. The striking result when combined with the lighting of the show is the illusion of colorful, skeleton-like figures moving with the beat as they play their instruments.
Costuming seems simple, but as the show progresses it is revealed just how complex it is. I mentioned the use of color and lights for the musicians, but every costume has its own intricacy. The Blue Mens' costumes can also emit substances from the chest. During one part of the show their costumes includes lights that, combined with the colors and lighting of other dancers, produce a fantastic visualization of 2D figures stepping into a 3D world. The entire show has parts that work well together – the lighting, the costumes, and the use of space.
The content is delivered in the style of a variety show, with short vignettes that include musical numbers, art, and comedy, all seamlessly connected. Underlying each of these vignettes is the deeper message of the show, to reveal the sense of wonder and discovery that leads to invention and creativity. From the first moment the Blue Men step onto the stage, their clear desire is to get reactions from the audience. With each "accidental" discovery, they begin to develop and nurture a rapport with the audience that easily kept us entertained.
Whether delivering a message about the effect of information overload on humans or a simple science lesson about the miracle of vision, each of those messages is delivered without words from the Blue Men and invites the audience to wonder, discover, and enjoy.
The show is less than two hours and there is no intermission. The time flew by and I was both entertained and enlightened all the way to the end, which culminated in a party, bringing out the youngster that resides in all people, regardless of age, as we danced and worked together to keep large, lit balls in motion. Think beach balls on a massive scale and you begin to get the picture.
The Blue Man Group is definitely worth the time to see. Its entertainment value, coupled with the feeling of being renewed as you walk out of the theater, makes this a must see for the whole family. Hurry, the show runs only through Sunday!
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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