Las Vegas goes out on a performance-art limb with a show that deserves applause from entertainment-seekers with no interest in dancing girls or white tigers. Blue Man Group is part rock band, part theater act, part surrealist troupe and all percussion — a plotless hour and a half overflowing with the unexpected antics of the three emotionless and wordless bald men painted blue. It should generate positive work of mouth among the culturally savvy; however, varying audience responses at the show caught suggested that it was soaring over some gamblers’ heads.
The show draws on conceits first explored by performance artists in the 1960s and ’70s, when their every statement and movement had political, sexual or social motivations. Blue Man Group’s act is devoid of any of that pretense — they use the stage as an art-and-music playground wherein the games have few rules (and little sense of competition).
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Without words, the Blue Men convey amusement and curiosity with ease, but no activity has meaning beyond the physical performance.
The opening number sets the tone: bizarre occurrences that showcase the three performers’ facilities. The center Blue Man throws a marshmallow to his colleagues on either side of the stage; each catches the treat in his mouth.
The first one then magically spits color onto a canvas, while the second comes up empty as he attempts to do the same. Eventually, as more marshmallows are tossed, one Blue Man has created an abstract piece of art and the second has just accumulated a wad of goo in his mouth. (Have no fear — he will get to create, too).
Much of their subsequent feats involve food (including one with Twinkies and an audience member) and/or paint (including one with a jumpsuit, a blank canvas, a pulley and an audience member).
Early on, the three men eat from their own boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal. Two boxes are standard size, but the third is larger than anything even Smart & Final would carry. They stuff their mouths, they chomp.
One Blue Man mindlessly smears his face in the cereal while the second, through pantomime, advises him to tidy up his appearance. Soon, the two realize the third has a large box, which he discards to put them all on equal footing. The three then chomp a percussive melody; with mouth and cereal they recall Chico and Harpo Marx’s perf of the Anvil Chorus with cash register, bell and whistle 70 years ago.
All of this is done to a ferocious rock soundtrack that initially mimics glam rock effects, with a bit of twang thrown in on lead guitar. The music is always driven by drums, lots of them.
Some of that percussion is provided by the Blue Men themselves: They bang on oil drums that are covered in paint, which splashes about; later, enormous industrial pipes are tuned to allow melodic intervals to enter the picture.
Blue Man Group founders designed the instruments and some of the greatest fun is derived from watching them play these pipes. At one point they do a series of familiar tunes and end with the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” during which the audience is invited to Karaoke along. It is the only time any words are spoken.
Blue Man Group is coming up on a decade of performing, a considerable achievement for an act that didn’t hire any replacement actors until the show had been staged 1,200 times at New York’s Off Broadway Astor Place Theater.
Founding trio Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink have grown their troupe to include 14 players though producers make no effort to inform the audience who is onstage. Similarly, the band that plays above the action numbers seven although the show employs 17 musicians.
Subsequently a hit in Chicago and Boston, Blue Man Group has created its largest piece for its largest venue yet; the 25-row, 1,200-seat Luxor Theatre has double the capacity of its largest other house, in Chi.
First-time visitors will have a hard time picturing this production in a smaller hall. It’s out-of-control messy, with paint and paper and aerosol cheese flying every which way. And it is very loud.
Blue Man Group is as logical a choice as any to continue Vegas’ interest in importing acts from the New York stage. Their competition is much more Cirque du Soleil than “Splash” — this is the decidedly hip side of Vegas. The show has only one lull — an all percussion blow-out that relies on an uninvolving light-and-silhouette spectacle.
By show’s end, when the entire crowd is cloaked in strands of heavy duty toilet paper, the stage is full of food remnants and paint and the onstage troupe/band shows no signs of exhaustion, there’s a sense that this is the best light-hearted diversion anyone could possibly want to see.