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A Blue-plate special for fans

Special to The Times

Considering the sheer spectacle of Blue Man Group’s “How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.0,” it’s hard to believe that this glitzy and highly packaged entertainment has its roots in street theater.

The show, which ran Monday night only at Universal City’s Gibson Amphitheatre as part of a national tour, played to yelling, stomping fans of all ages and stripes. (Be advised: The screeching decibel level might prove daunting to the very young -- and possibly the not so young.)

Back in the late 1980s, Blue Man founders Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman donned blue makeup and took their innovative act to the streets, then off Broadway. Now Blue Man Group is a bona fide conglomerate with venues from Vegas to London. In June, the group plans to open as a resident show at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. The question is, can a worldwide conglomerate maintain its creative edge?

That depends on your point of view. Those who have seen the group in more intimate theatrical settings will have to adjust their expectations to a larger scale. This Blue Man outing is really a full-scale rock concert, with an eight-piece band, vocalists, and a whirling melange of spectacular effects, including digitized video segments and dazzlingly innovative lighting.

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The music ranges from covers of the Who and Donna Summer to original compositions. Of course, the emphasis here is on percussion. The famous tube contraptions of past shows predominate along with various other “instruments” that look as if they were salvaged from a Dumpster.

Under the artistic directorship of longtime Blue Man collaborator Caryl Glaab, the staging is as bizarrely imaginative as it is difficult to describe. A case in point involves audience volunteers and what appears to be a large number of paint balls. Thrown by one of the Blue Men, the balls rocket clear across the stage, shooting directly into the open mouth of another Blue Man. That Blue Man, his mouth impossibly full of deliquesced balls, then regurgitates them onto the top of a volunteer’s cap to form an oozing yellow cone. Seen close up on several large video screens, the surreal scene is as gross as it is mesmerizing.

Mostly, the tone is broadly vaudevillian, but the proceedings take a serious turn at intervals, with mixed results. A piece on global warming seems tacked-on and obligatory, but a video of drifting paper fragments from the 9/11 disaster, salvaged near the group’s New York City headquarters, is genuinely poignant.

The trick is that underneath the high-tech wizardry and propulsive music, this rock concert is actually a deconstruction of rock concerts, as well as a send-up of celebrity. A Rod Serling-esque voice takes us step by step through how we too can achieve superstardom.

That’s strikingly ironic, because these three particular Blue Men are, of course, unrecognizable in their trademark makeup. And although the band members are introduced at show’s end, the Blue Men, emphatically, are not. Mute and bemused, they remain hapless everymen, laboring in obscurity. That may be the whole point, but it’s hard luck for these gifted performers. Cogs in a grinding franchise, they deserve recognition.

Bay Area performance artist and DJ Mike Relm opens the show with aptly timed music and video segments.


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