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THEATER REVIEW Blue Man Group
by James R. Wilke
2017-12-31

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Created and written by: Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink

At: Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted St. Tickets: BlueMan.com/chicago; $39-99. Ongoing

Performance art, street act, vaudeville show, drum session, sketch comedy, tech fair, carnival party, science experiment, rock concert, alien sighting … Briar Street Theatre's Blue Man Group is all these things and more, wrapped tightly into a one-and-a-half hour, roller-coaster-paced production unlike anything you'll see anywhere else. Revolving around the explorations of three blue-skinned, bald, humanoid, gender-neutral figures—silent yet with a penchant for making percussive sounds and communicating through their eyes—Blue Man Group makes for a truly unique variety entertainment.

The show evolved out of street performances developed by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink in the late '80s in New York City. These became so popular that a full-length show was launched in 1991, to such acclaim that it now has permanent productions in six cities, including Chicago, along with a world tour. Indeed, with its bright neon colors, glow-in-the-dark effects, multi-sized TV screens, camera crew and rock instrumentals, Blue Man Group feels like a vintage MTV music video come to life. Those of us who grew up in the '80s-'90s will be reminded of things like Tron and Cyberpunk movies, Max Headroom, Atari games and Twinkies in your lunchbox.

Yet part of the timeless delight of this show, and perhaps why young audiences continue to connect, is that Blue Man Group also asks enduring questions we were taught to abandon in early childhood, like, "What happens if I pour watery paint all over a drum kit and hit it with sticks?" Or "What cool sounds and sights do other random objects make when I hit them, or when I chew them up and spit them out, etc.?"

Certainly, much of the show's charm lies in the Blue Men's childlike innocence when exploring everyday objects in ways we don't expect, from breakfast cereal, to PVC piping, to cellphone apps and more. Surprisingly, the show has more comedy than I expected, as the antics of the three peculiar, inquisitive, alien-yet-human Blue Men are undeniably funny, even including audience participation and a few unsuspecting on-stage volunteers.

A light variety spectacle, this show feels ideal to entertain the high school and college crowd. In fact, the night I saw it, busloads of high schoolers were in attendance and clearly loving every minute. Yet with a solid, neon-clad, live band and ever-changing sketches, the show can entertain all age groups. While the shtick remains fairly similar for those who have already seen it in recent years, for anyone who has not yet seen it, Blue Man Group is a one-of-a-kind pop-culture experience.


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