REVIEW: Blue Man Group – Chicago

Turning an event into a celebration

 Photo by David Hawe

Blue Man Productions present
Blue Man Group
at Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted (map)
Open Run  |  tickets: $54-$64  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

photo by David HaweBlue Man Group, with it’s on going shows in nine different international cities, 700 employees and a cumulative audience of 12 million plus and counting is certainly not hurting for press. In fact, after running at the Briar Street Theater since 1997, Blue Man Group is still selling out midweek performances. The show, which is self described, “modern vaudeville” combines technological elements like projected animation and LED screens, old-fashioned comedy and magic routines, as well as music made with tubes. And of course, all of this is presented by three hairless, earless Blue Men, or rather one Blue Man, played by three actors.

The three race-less men wander around the audience, exploring new the world around them as if they’ve never seen it before, staring into the eyes of their audience members trying to find a connection. The show, which is an entertainment extravaganza, and builds to a totally 90’s party atmosphere, is an exploration of how people communicate and relate in a world of mass media, information overload and cyber saturation. Blue Man Group is reputed to be a spectacle and not much else by some, when in fact, the show’s substance is thoughtful, solemn and at times very angry. The rave environment that the event turns into is not just about having a good time, it’s about people connecting on a primal level. By eliminating a narrative, Blue Man Group has created a performance that is entirely about a personal connection with their audience, from start to finish.

Most people are already familiar with Blue Man Group, even if they haven’t seen the show. Their act has been featured in newspapers and magazines, as well as heavy hitting daytime and late night talk shows. The technical proficiency of the actors is noted by the masses, and rightly so. The work that goes into the performance of this show is powerful, clean and honest.

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There is not question of the talent or the intelligence of this show; the question at hand is: how is a group of performance artists this weird this popular? With relatively few changes to the script since it’s creation, it’s hard to imagine how the show stays so fresh. It helps that the questions asked in the 90’s about technology and communication have only deepened as we’ve passed though the 2000’s. In their introduction to the tube instrument that the blue men famously plays, a video presentation introduces the concept. It reminds us that we live in a grid of interconnected channels so expansive that it’s size is virtually unquantifiable. What is the grid? Modern plumbing. Reminding us that we live in a community, that is actually physically connected by objects and things – as opposed to online data – may have  been a clever statement in 1997, but in 2010 it feels almost revolutionary. As  communication and information become ever increasing, these questions posed by 90’s artists become more and more relevant.

Photo by Eric McNattThe sheer entertainment of the piece is also a major factor. The show turns into a celebration, and it’s virtually impossible not to partake.

The smartest thing Blue Man Group does in terms of ensuring their sustainability is to make this show mind-numbingly fun. The show is not to be watched; rather, it’s to be experienced. This makes for a show that people will continue coming back to. Every audience member is involved in the show, and therefore has a personal relationship with it. Die hard fans of this show see it again and again, and something that is so hard to describe seems mysterious enough that hoards of new audience members are eager to find out what the story is with this enigmatic show.

Blue Man Group is a treat. It’s an event, and it’s enthralling. This show is a lot of spectacle, but with a lot of thought put into it as well. Perhaps most importantly, it’s the kind of show that makes people who don’t normally see theater get out and buy a ticket! Everyone wants to see Blue Man Group, the same way that everyone wants to see a big summer blockbuster. And the fact that this show manages to create something like this, and actually respect the intellect of their audience, might be one of the most notable theatrical feats of the 90’s, 2000’s and beyond.

Rating: ★★★★

Photo by Darbe Rotach