Faking spontaneity is a lot tougher than faking sincerity, but Blue Man Group has it down to an art form.
The touring edition of the show that dazzled, amused and tirelessly entertained what appeared to be a near-sellout audience at the Music Hall on opening night Tuesday was a beautiful exercise in the art of illusion. When the blue men began interacting with video images of themselves and invading the audience’s space in a search for “volunteers,” nothing was quite as it seemed.
The three blue-faced performers who command our attention at all times (Kalen Allmandinger, Kirk Massey and Patrick Newton on opening night) are essentially high-end clowns, but they convey the air of strangers in a strange land – like aliens trying to learn the ways of humans. That’s part of what makes the show fun. These performers exhibit considerable charm.
But the skill of the actors is surrounded by spectacle, sophisticated video projections and explosions of color. Created and written by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, the show that began in an off-Broadway theater has now become a machine that functions with breathtaking precision. It showcases refined performing skills and exceptional musicianship and ultimately seeks to send viewers home reeling after a finale in which enormous inflated spheres bounce through the crowd as the blue men spray streams of toilet paper into the crowd.
You can find a vigorous debate on the Internet about whether the audience members brought on stage are plants or actual ticket-buyers and I kept an open mind until a sequence late in the performance. A young man was brought onstage, helped into a pair of white disposable painter’s coveralls, fitted with a protective helmet and led into the wings. We then watched a video transmission labeled “live backstage” in which the “volunteer” was doused in blue paint, bound by the feet, hoisted upside down and slammed into a large canvas to create “body art.”
I suppose he could have been the most cooperative audience volunteer in the history of show business, but I have my doubts. Another bit about 30 minutes into the show when “late arrivals” are captured on camera and bathed in a spotlight as they walk down the aisle is apparently a standard part of the show.
But it’s all so well done that you have to give the production extra points for serving up such clever fakery.
Interestingly, for a show that has somehow acquired a bit of an intellectual patina, there’s a notable reactionary spirit at work in much of the humor. In the opening sequence the blue men create “art” by catching marshmallows and some version of paint balls in their mouths and then spraying or regurgitating the material onto canvases.
And in a prolonged scene involving another audience member and a dinner of Twinkie Lights, one of the best jokes of the night occurs when one of the blue men uses a vacuum cleaner to suck Christina out of a copy of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, “Christina’s World.”
On another level, the show is having a field day making fun of consumerism and advertising through mock TV commercials and what might be termed anti-product placement.
In short, the show is anything you need it to be – subversive, satirical, anarchic or anti-intellectual. Just choose one. But it’s something else, too: expansively entertaining.