They say the third time is the charm and nowhere is that more evident than my experience seeing the wonderfully strange, wacky, comical, and surreal experience known as Blue Man Group. It amazes me that somehow this show, founded by entrepreneurs Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, has been around since 1991 and has been seen by more than 17 million people. How do you describe the indescribable? It’s not a musical, it’s not a play, it’s an experience.
I’ll be honest, the first time I saw the show, I dozed off and was completely embarrassed by the irreverent troupe. Imagine my shock when I opened my eyes and one of them was standing on my chair, staring directly at me, while my face was projected on the big screen. In my defense it was a midnight show in Vegas. The second time was at Universal Studios in Orlando and I thought it was pretty good. Their recent stop in Washington, DC’s National Theater was rollicking good fun.
You know you are in for something different the minute you walk into the theater. Monitors flash funny sayings and ask the audience to do things like say (not sing) “Happy Birthday” to an audience member, or the performers will harass a random audience member for posting a status update on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t show up late, they will literally stop whatever they are doing, put the spotlight on you and sing “You’re Late…” as you do the slow walk of shame to your seat. One couple got that treatment and the entire audience was in stitches.
The humor is juvenile, yet pretty sophisticated. The first bit involves the guys throwing marshmallows into each others’ mouths and then creating some weird kind of art with it. And I think one of their commentaries may be how silly essential art is. Or maybe how crazy all “art” is. There’s a moment where they literally turn an audience member into a human canvas. But the show also says a lot about our modern culture and reliance on technology and cell phones. In an extended bit they use a giant tablet device or “GiPad” to subtly showcase how ridiculous our society has become with regards to how we communicate with each other and the impact of that on our logical thinking ability.
There’s an hysterical, interactive segment where they teach the audience the seven steps to becoming a rock star – there’s the wave your hands like you just don’t care, the raise the roof, the scream, etc. All done with a weird robot-like figure showing you what to do and a mysterious computer-like voice telling you. All of this is done with some really cool kick-butt music in the background. As with everything else Blue Man-related it is hard to describe the music. It has its roots in standard electronic dance, but the drum beats are performed live by the performers and they have live drummers and a rock guitarist playing slightly off stage.
While there are plenty of great moments in the show, not all of them work. The opening sequence with the marshmallows comes to mind, and there’s one where they bring a female up from the audience and have dinner with her. It goes on a little to long and comes across a kind of pointless. But then one of the messages of this show is that art is allowed to be pointless.
Joel Moritz’s lighting and set design is stunningly beautiful. There are moments when it seems like some of the sequences are actually in 3D, and the blending of animation, video and sound makes the experience even more surreal. The show ends in a riot of colors, gigantic balloons, confetti, toilet paper, everything. By the rousing end, the usually staid National Theater crowd was up on its feet, dancing in the aisles and shaking their money makers. Blue Man Group is more than a show, it is a unique communal experience and party.
Blue Man Group is at Washington, DC’s National Theater May 6 – 11, 2014. Tickets are available here. For more information visit the official Blue Man Group website. Next up at National Theater is West Side Story, June 3 – June 8.