An MFA graduate from Roosevelt University, Jude has worked w/ Redmoon Theatre, The House Theatre, The New Colony, & Kid Brooklyn Productions, to name a few. Before moving to the States from Australia, Jude was a founding member & artistic director of Placenta Theatre, recipient of Best Director two years running at Midsumma Theatre Festival, & recipient of the Australian National Young Playwrights Award. He is represented by Shirley Hamilton & currently working on writing a comedic television series.
Pictured: Blue Man Group ensemble. Photo by Lindsey Best.
Review: BLUE MAN GROUP at Briar Street Theatre
By Jude Hansen
The Blue Man Group is a multi-sensory experience incorporating elements of clowning, percussion and rave culture. This revamped iteration of the show incorporates references to smartphone technology, rock concerts, some new video elements and light-suit choreography. Despite the futuristic nature of this additional content, this incorporation of modern technology seemed very dated and distracted from the real strength of the show- the synergistic interaction between the three Blue Man performers, who are all veterans (it shows).
These blue men (a play on human) were able to handle anything a very vocal and active audience could throw at them all the while navigating a tech-heavy show and yet still pick up on and respond to subtle nuances in each other’s performances. The other great moments of the show are the infectious musical numbers whether it was the paint drumming or the captivating plumbing pipe xylophone or the rave-like finale. These performers show such virtuosity in their instrumental skills that it is hard not to be captivated by their musical prowess. They even possess a mind-boggling capacity to catch marshmallows in their mouth from a really long distance.
The show lends itself towards an easy populism with an audience that ranged through all ages and all backgrounds. However, I was continually confused by whom this show was actually intended for. There were moments of cerebral comedy (via screens or voice over) which pitched the show at an intellectual level while the show was at it’s lowest when it descended to crass jokes, several times about male genitalia. I personally wasn’t offended by these jokes but did feel them largely unnecessary, and it certainly was uncomfortable knowing there was a five-year-old sitting next to me.
Sight gags, prop gags, slapstick, shaming and embarrassment (both of audience and each other) including an unfortunate moment of gender confusion were all drawn upon for varying levels of comedic effect. The comedy was at its peak during the incendiary vaudeville-like exchange that happened during the “date” scene with a volunteer from the audience. The performers were able to wordlessly guide her through an extended scene despite her laughter even getting her to feed them twinkies. What is most impressive throughout this scene was how cleanly the performers could transfer focus between each of them and then synchronized together throw it back to the volunteer for her hilarious reactions.
Momentum seemed to be another problem with the show. Each section was distinct from one another, but transitions were a lull between the events of the scenes rather than build up to or on from one another. Thematically there was no consistency between these different sections, and they would quite often simply come to a stop without a conclusion. This type of show doesn’t necessarily need an intellectual or quantifiable throughline, but the energy does need to keep going from one section to the next. There was certainly no trouble finding the energy within the sections from the performers or the audience.
Of the new additions to the show, a highlight was the brilliant use of camera trickery to take an esophageal journey down an unwitting audience members’ throat. Hats off also to the tech team who manage so many elements and what must be a ridiculous number of cues. Although I should warn a potential audience that they have a habit of shining painfully bright lights into your eyes that have adjusted to the darkness. This was made even worse for me personally due to light sensitivity from Lasik last year, but I was assured that others also suffered burning sensations from this.
Blue Man is a full industry of its own now, and the marketing machine certainly works. As a show it has been running for what seems like forever at the Briar Street Theatre, so they must be doing something right. But it was tough to see how this revamped version of the show brought anything new to the table for those who have already attended.