Blue Man Group
Blue Man Group at the Venetian is unlike any other show on the Las Vegas Strip. There are no elaborate costumes, no death-defying acrobatics and no scantily clad dancers. There are simply three blue-hued men dressed in black who make music, make you laugh and make you think.
This avant-garde, unorthodox show is part comedy, part performance art and part wacky science experiment, accompanied by a percussion-driven soundtrack. The performers never utter a word, but instead use their eyes, facial expressions and subtle gestures to evoke responses from the audience.
Your first clue that this is no ordinary show is when you are escorted to your seat in the custom-built 1,760-seat theater, handed crepe paper and encouraged to decorate yourself with it…and the adventure is just beginning there. What follows is 90 minutes of fast-paced fun.
The show begins with the Blue Men creating their own brand of unique art by drumming on top of brightly colored paint that splashes onto a blank white paper. They go on to create art by spraying paint from their mouths onto spinning white canvases. The paint comes from rubber balls they toss to each other across the huge stage and catch expertly in their mouths.
Later in the show, a giant video screen is used to explain to the audience how the world is becoming more and more interconnected - not through advances in technology - but by good old fashioned plumbing. What better segue into the group's exploration of PVC pipe as a musical instrument? The Blue Man Group's trademark primitive, tribal percussion sound is generated by a host of specially-designed instruments made from the plastic tubes.
Take for instance the drumbone, which is made from large PVC pipes. As one Blue Man strikes the contraption, another slides sections of it in and out, changing the pitch of the sound, much like a traditional trombone.
Another unique instrument is the Backpack Tubulum, which looks like curvy organ pipes strapped to the Blue Men's backs. The backpacks glow as the Blue Men beat rhythms on them.
Plumbing materials aren't the only unusual instruments the Blue Men use. Believe it or not, they can also make percussion-based music from loudly chewing Cap'n Crunch cereal. Blue Man Group's band, which features seven musicians, also uses some pretty non-traditional instruments including a zither and a Chapman Stick, which looks like the fret of an electric guitar and is played with a tapping motion.
Blue Man Group's show features plenty of wacky, off-the-wall vignettes that will make you laugh, including a tutorial on rock concert moves that everyone needs to know whether they want to become a rock star or just worship one. The show relies heavily on audience reactions - the performers constantly play off and respond to the crowd and there is definitely audience participation.
One of the most spontaneous bits is when a member of the audience is invited on stage to share a snack of Twinkies with the group. The three men watch intently as the volunteer tries to eat the Twinkie with a knife and fork. The Blue Men imitate every move the person makes and they try to get the person to join in on their antics as well. The results are hilarious.
Watching a Blue Man perform is sort of like watching a strange, other-worldly creature explore his surroundings. It also makes you kind of wonder what exactly a Blue Man is and just how someone becomes one.
Blue Man Group was created in New York in the late '80s by three friends, Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, who started out performing in the streets and eventually opened their show in an Off-Broadway theater in 1991. They continued to add shows in other cities and debuted in Las Vegas at the Luxor in 2000 before moving to the Venetian in 2005.
Blue Man Group has recorded three albums including the Grammy-nominated "Audio," "The Complex" and "Live At The Venetian - Las Vegas," which is available exclusively on iTunes.
The group also collaborated on the score for the animated motion picture "Robots," for which they created more than 25 new metal percussion instruments to accent the music.
There are always three Blue Men featured in each show and a cast of eight men at the Venetian are constantly rotating in and out of the schedule.
The avant-garde Blue Man Group, combines theatrics, art, music and science to create an interactive, wild and percussion-driven experience full of humor and energy.
Trying to describe the Blue Man character can be a challenge. Some people believe he's a child, some think he's an alien.
"Blue Man is not an alien in the sense that he's from another planet, but alien in the sense that he's very different than what we've all become," said Matthew Banks, a director and performer who has been with the show for eight years.
He likes to describe the character as "part dog, part five-year-old and part hero" or "part shaman, part trickster and part scientist."
"Blue Man knows nothing, but he's got curiosity," Banks said.
However you choose to describe a Blue Man, it definitely takes some special skills to become one.
"You have to be six feet tall, an actor/musician and be able to catch things in your mouth," said Banks. He's only half joking. The performers really do have to be able to catch paint balls and marshmallows in their mouths from across the stage and learning how to do that isn't easy. Banks said it takes about a half hour of practice every day over a six-week period to really master the feat.
Although the cast in Las Vegas is all male, Banks said there has been a woman in the group's show in Boston. Women are allowed to audition for Blue Man Group as long as they meet the height and build requirements.
The costumes in the show are not elaborate, but the performers do have to transform themselves into the blue-hued creatures.
Banks said the brilliant blue color comes from greasepaint and although it takes about 45 minutes to get into costume, it's relatively easy to wash the color off. The more challenging task is removing the glue that's used to attach the bald skullcaps. "We've become masters of exfoliation," Banks said.
Since the Blue Man character is silent, Banks said one of the biggest challenges he faces as a performer is not laughing during the show. He said another challenge is constantly working as a group of three and reacting to and playing off each other. Playing off the audience can have its moments too.
"It takes a lot of nerve," Banks said. "We walk into the audience and we're up on chairs and in people's faces but we try not to be invasive."
Banks said when it comes to choosing audience members to participate in the show, there is a certain demographic the performers look for. "We try to get the right amount of shyness and excitedness."
Some audience members have proven to be a little too excitable though. Banks relates a story about a Blue Man who was actually punched in the face after startling a sleeping audience member who suddenly awoke to see the unearthly-looking creature in front of him.
Despite a few challenging aspects, Banks said being a Blue Man is a rewarding experience. "When we go into the lobby and meet the audience afterwards, they are so heartfelt. There are 86-year-olds telling you it's the best show they've ever seen or there are little kids seeing it for the first time."
"There's a sense that something beyond entertainment is happening here."