Briar Street Theater
Blue Man Group
At The Briar Street Theater by Dan Zeff
Chicago – “Blue Man Group” premiered a new production on November 8 at its permanent home at the Briar Street Theatre, claiming all kinds of new content. Having seen the show multiple times, I did note a few new wrinkles, but essentially it’s the same sensory overload that has been drawing audiences to the Briar Street seemingly since the presidency of William Henry Harrison.
Thus, veterans of past Blue Man performances will see more that is familiar than new during a 100-minute performance. That’s no bad thing for the millions of spectators who like the show’s concept just fine as is. That concept, put concisely, offers very loud music, presenting three identically dressed men coated in blue makeup doing things you will not see in any other theater.
The show has no narrative. It does have plenty of mime, blasting percussion music, gaudy visual effects, a bit of satire and vaudeville, and some audience participation. The show is also wordless, excluding a few off stage announcements. The Blue Men may not talk, but that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate. Their expressions, outwardly totally impassive and impersonal, run the gamut from pensive to puzzled to sinister to comic.
The stage setup remains the same. The Blue Men operate on the stage (and often in the audience), while a three-musician rock band, dressed in day-glo illuminated costumes, operates at an Olympian decibel count above the playing area. The noise level is not for every taste, but those customers who dislike pounding electronic music have no business at the show. In any case, I doubt that any ticket buyers wander into the Briar Street Theatre with no idea of what they are about to hear and see.
The show begins with a kind of prologue, consisting of a moving ribbon of electronic words with assorted attempts at comedy and references to attendees, by name. The messages encourage the crowd to sing happy birthday and generally attempt to establish an intimate “Let’s all have fun” atmosphere.
The three Blue Men are drawn from a pool of seven men (there is also a pool of musicians) to accommodate the schedule that at holiday times seems to run daily around the clock. The Blue Men all look the same and they perform as a single organism. The show seems to have a spontaneous “what we will do next” atmosphere,” but these guys are rigorously trained and they are really good.
The show begins with a thundering display of hammering percussion, which continues on and off throughout the show, the percussion instruments being a variety of oddball horns and drums, notably a long marimba-style assemblage of hollow tubes. The Blue Men deserve highest praise for their synchronized percussion work, which is actually highly musical no matter how vigorously the men pound away.
There may be new material in the current show, but my favorite bit is still that old favorite, the marshmallow toss, in which one Blue Man tosses marshmallows into the mouth of a colleague standing many feet away, hitting the catcher’s mouth virtually every time. The scene grows more and more amazing as the catcher inexplicably finds room for what seems like dozens of marshmallows in his mouth, gulping them down as his mate throw them with considerable rapidity. This exhibition has never failed to blow my mind.
Another bit, retained from earlier shows, seems ready to be laid to rest. The Blue Men create painted abstract designs on spinning surfaces, touting them as great works of art. The battle over the aesthetic merits of abstract painting was fought deep in the past century and satirizing abstract art now seems quaint at best.
Another holdover bit brings the Blue Men to a long table, where they are joined by an individual plucked from the audience to join them in a feast of Twinkies. And later there was a senior citizen drafted from the audience who seemed to be having a grand time flailing away at a row of metal globes.
The bottom line is that “Blue Man Group” falls into the category of “If you like this sort of thing this is the sort of thing you will like.” And the passing years indicates that lots of people like the idea and the presentation.
The show gets a rating ofNovember 2018..
“Blue Man Group” is playing an open run at the Briar Street Theatre, near the corner of Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street. The performance schedule varies. Tickets are $49 to $00. For information, call 1 (800) 258-3626. A full show schedule and ticket pricing, can also be found at www.blueman.com.