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Blue Man Group
by Scott C. Morgan

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Playwrights: Chris Wink, . Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. At: Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted. Phone: 773-348-4000; $49-$69. In an open run

Can a show still be hip when it's been mass-produced and customized to multiple cities around the world? In the case of Blue Man Group, the long-running performance art hit that incorporates mime, rock-and-roll drumming and comically existential questions about modern art and technology, the answer would be a surprising "yes."

True, if you're finally seeing Blue Man Group this late in the game after its 1992 off-Broadway debut (where it had the original show subtitle: Tubes) and its 1997 Chicago bow at the Briar Street Theatre, then you're probably not that much of a trend-setter. After all, Blue Man Group only came into consciousness for the majority of Americans when they were shilling Intel microchip processors in a national ad campaign last decade.

With so few shows opening in the final week of 2010, I decided to revisit the Chicago production of Blue Man Group to see how the mute and mostly monochromatic men were holding up. It was my fifth visit after seeing the show as a volunteer usher in 2000, 2003, and two times in 2005.

Certainly there is a touch of wear and tear about the stalwart show, what with years of splattered and drummed neon paint peeking around the edges of the upper wings. And if Blue Man Group were conceived today, the overall sound might have had more of a hip hop edge instead of the loud grunge rock thrashing that underscores much of the proceedings.

But the beauty of the revue-style makeup of Blue Man Group is that it also allows for changes. Videos about mind-blowing mathematical fractal art have been jettisoned in favor of video bits that astutely denigrate manufactured pop stars of today who are better known for their dance moves than their digitally cleaned up vocals.

And the fact that Blue Man Group has prominently built-in audience participation into its running order (particularly the ever-delightful Twinkie dining sequence), there's a guarantee that each show will be unique and memorable.

Though I could predict many of Blue Man Group's gags and routines in advance, it was still a delight to see how they would dazzle and play out with at this particular performance (which by the way, was completely sold out).

So I'm happy to say that Blue Man Group remains as sleek, smart and silly as ever. Who cares if you can also get it in Boston, Las Vegas or Orlando? Blue Man Group is a theatrical franchise that repeatedly justifies its indomitable staying power.

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