Blue Man has a bit of something for everyone, from the avid intellectual thinker to adrenaline junkies.
Blue Man Group Theatrical Tour, which runs through Sunday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, is known for celebrating universal human truths in a thrilling concert atmosphere that combines music, comedy and multimedia theatrics.
Upon entering the auditorium on opening night, an undeniable anticipation emanated from the crowd, who expected a notorious splash of spectacle. All at once, the enthusiastic chatter faded to a hush and one lone Blue Man appeared on stage becoming two, and then three.
At last, the united trio stood together, and in perfect unison they beat drums in beautifully choreographed motion. And with each strike, glow in the dark paint shot through the air in an avant-garde manifestation of visual art. Soon enough, the thunderous sound of drumming filled the theater and the audience, clearly in a frenzy, roared with delight.
To be completely honest, I was curious if I had just been initiated into some sort of cult.
Unquestionably, Blue Man Group has developed a colossal following since its opening at New York City’s Astor Palace Theater in 1991. Now, 20 years later, more than 17 million people have seen its shows in 12 cities across the globe. Cult or not, it is clear that Blue Man enthusiasts are drawn to the show’s strange nature.
The Blue Man is a peculiar creature, almost alien-like, even futuristic. But, behind the bizarre blue face paint lies a deeper meaning: After everything is stripped down, we are left with the purest, most vulnerable humanity, thus allowing audiences to reconnect with their own sense of discovery of human nature.
So this mysterious Blue Man world is similar to our own. In fact, the only factor that makes him mysterious to us is the absence of verbal communication. Without the spoken word, some facial expressions could not be interpreted. As the blue men looked out into the audience with wide eyes, the audience grew uncomfortable. But soon after, this discomfort turned into fascination.
Under the insightful direction of Marcus Miller and Blue Man Group, the performers had to get inside the ultimate character, human beings –– a difficult task even for the bona fide actors portraying the blue men.
Yet, even the most talented actors could not mask the major downside to not speaking: At moments, segments became long and drawn out and consequently, eyes began to wander off. However, the interaction with the audience through music, lights and volunteers counteracted these uneventful segments.
Volunteers were put on display as cameras broadcasted their reactions to being picked, whether shocked, tickled or reluctant. Anyone on the side or front three rows was fair game. One daring man in the front row let a blue put a mini camera down his throat, while the grotesque, live footage was displayed for all to see.
The show had a very simple concept, if any. That is, to observe a stripped-down human nature, like a specimen, and decide for yourself what to think. In other words, the innovative show form uses various stimuli to get audiences to think about human nature, technology and how that fits into the world around us.
Dynamic world music set the mood for this think tank. A four-piece band, including instruments like the zither and chapman stick, was complemented by Matt Koenig’s flawless sound design.
Under the ace musical direction of Byron Estep, the Blue Men also played instruments invented specifically for the show, such as the tubulum, drumulum and piano smasher, which successfully blended with the band.
For a show that has developed a reputation for its technological innovations, the equipment did little to reflect this notion. The proscenium-size LED curtain and high resolution screen were lo-tech and Caryl Glaab’s antiquated video design was evocative of the 90s. In the meantime, the engaging 3-D lighting and projection brought the audience into the Blue Man world.
The show, however, did deliver anticipated interactive experiences. Everyone in the theater had moments to participate –– some were more compliant than others. The theatrical tour included classic Blue Man Group like a tutorial on rock concert moves, including the one-armed fist pump, and raise the roof and “wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.” One by one, audience members broke out of their shells, which made for an amusing sight.
By the end of the night, those young and old and from countless cultural backgrounds stood up to shake their behinds, while outlandish synonyms for butt appeared on the big screen including: rumpshaker, hiney, buttocks, and here’s a creative one — “the place where all the burritos go.” In the meantime, streamers and giant inflatable balls were catapulted into the orchestra section.
Blue Man Group founders Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman designed the new theatrical tour so that audience members in theaters like Segerstrom Hall, which seats 4,500 people, could enjoy the same intimate experience that their productions in small theaters offer. Unfortunately, that goal was only part-realized.
Although the production possessed the same qualities of a rock concert, like loud music, showy lighting, and a set that played to a large audience, the audience interaction was unequal.
Audience members at the mezzanine level were unable to enjoy the balls, streamers, and colorful liquids that get sprayed onto the stage and into the orchestra section. As I glanced back from the orchestra, audience members in the mezzanine looked down at the party below with longing eyes.
Some theater-goers are content with looking on from a distance at the celebration below, but if you are looking for the ultimate Blue Man experience, buy a ticket in the orchestra section.
If You Go
What: Blue Man Group
Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets: Start at $25
Information: (714) 556-2787 or https://www.scfta.org