‘Blue Man Group’ at National Theatre

What do you get when you mix 10 gallons of blue paint, 360 pounds of Jell-O, 15 pounds of Cap’n Crunch cereal, 30 boxes of Twinkie Lights, 550 feet of PVC piping, and 40 drum heads?

A theatrical masterpiece in the most superlative sense.

Blue Man Group National Tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
‘Blue Man Group’ National Tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Created by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton in 1987, Blue Man Group—the iconic group best known for multi-media performances that feature three bald and blue characters who take the audience on a journey that is funny, intelligent, and visually stunning—rocked the National Theatre on Tuesday night. Between the marshmallows, paint, and cakes of blue make-up is a simple, but endearing narrative about self-discovery and the importance of human connection.

Perhaps that story—combined with breathtaking visuals and heart-pounding music—is what keeps audiences coming back for more—a narrative arc that helps to make sense of the creative chaos that unfolds on the stage each night, the metaphorical glue that binds the audio and visual masterpiece. With no spoken language, Blue Man Group is perfect for people of all ages, languages, and cultures.

The experience at a Blue Man Group performance is hard to describe, in part because they’re in an entertainment category of their own. Featuring a live-band, whose haunting tribal rhythms help drive the show to its climax, playing alongside the personality-rich bald and blue characters in the show who creatively make use of assorted props to generate unique sights and distinct sounds, the performance is a bit of a mix between a rock concert, cinematic experience, Broadway show, and circus performance—all done with the flare and savvy of the best street artist. The New York Times adequately heralds the show as “One of the most delightful performance pieces ever staged.”

The Blue Man (Kalen Allmandinger, Mike Brown, Benjamin Forster, Kirk Massey, Patrick Newton, Russell Rinker, Bhurin Sead, Scott Speiser, and Brian Tavener) manage to convey emotions without speaking, a sizable feat that is accomplished with finesse. Their facial expressions are somehow able to communicate emotion in a large Broadway-style theatre and create a sense of humanity that is a refreshing surprise amidst the complicated visual and sound orchestrations of the show.

The musicians (Antonio, Aguirre, Julian Cassanetti, Jerry Kops, Jesse Nolan, Anthony Riscica, Terry Tungjunyatham, Clement Waldmann III, and Jeffrey Alan Wright) are responsible for creating the score each night, which is a blend of strong tribal-like percussion with rock anthems. The combination sounds strange, but, it works, creating an experience that blends the best parts of a rock concert and street performance. What’s interesting is that Blue Man Group simultaneously creates sounds from a series of pipes arranged like a xylophone, yet these more gentle pipe sounds are still audible despite the high-voltage rock band playing on elevated platforms in the background—a testament to strong sound design by Matt Koenig. The result is a rich and textured audio experience.

There were a number of highlights throughout the evening that really showcased the creativity and magic behind the three-person group. One number, in which an audience member is invited on stage, involves a staged “fancy” dinner where Twinkies are on the menu. Imitating and mocking the creation of an elegant dinner, this simulation pokes fun at cultural norms about etiquette and propriety.  Ultimately, many of the segments throughout the evening poked fun at cultural norms—a satirical commentary about the whims of society, especially the overabundance of technology.

With three screens suspended over the stage, which, at times, are lit up to represent large cell phones, the group mocked the connectivity of current society, jeering at how our society has been gradually replaced by a 2D “text” craze as opposed to true, 3D human interaction. With characters that emerge from the projected screens, metaphorically representing a “2.5” dimension, Blue Man Group showcases their impressive lighting design (Joel Moritz and Kevin Adams) with costumes (Patricia Murphy) draped in lights that twinkle in sync with the music. This theme of transcending information overload/pollution resonated throughout the evening.

The finale number is the ultimate combination of the audio and visual power of the group. With a gyrating dance number that pushed audience members to stand up and dance to the beat, the rock band blasted music as Blue Man Group drummed on large light-up balloon balls that would eventually be thrown into the audience. With tissue paper and confetti sprayed throughout the theatre and strobe lights flashing in rhythm to the music, the finale number left everyone feeling giddy and energized, arousing the inner child in even the most serious of patrons.

It comes as no surprise to me that Blue Man Group has performed on five continents and has been seen by more than 25 million people around the world, or that the company has permanent, sit-down productions in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, and Orlando as well as popular North American touring show and tailored-made show on the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, the Epic.

'Blue Man Group' National Tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
‘Blue Man Group’ National Tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

As the National Theatre proudly proclaims: “The new sound, set, and video design centering around a proscenium-sized LED curtain and high-resolution screen create an entirely new, high-impact visual experience for Broadway houses across the nation.” The show does not disappoint. It is indeed the perfect opportunity to “escape the ordinary and surround yourself in an explosion of comedy, music, and technology.”

This was my first Blue Man Group performance, and, having seen television appearances by the Group on shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Live! With Regis and Kelly, the Primetime Emmy Awards, Ellen, Cupcake Wars, Celebrity Apprentice, and America’s Got Talent, I can assure you that there is nothing like seeing this group of performers live and in-person. If you love performance art, then you have to check out Blue Man Group before its final performance on May 11th.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Blue Man Group plays through May 11, 2014 at the National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online.

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Derek Mong
Derek is a DC-native and a graduate of Duke University (B.A Political Science). During his junior/senior year at Duke, Derek served as a Marketing and Public Relations intern at the Nederlander-operated Durham Performing Arts Center. At his internship, Derek developed marketing campaigns and assisted press in coverage of the four major Broadway engagements that season: Memphis, The Addams Family, Bring It On, and Wicked. Upon graduating from Duke in 2012, Derek joined a tech and management consulting firm in Arlington, VA, where he currently works. Derek enjoys frequenting the DC-NYC theatre scene; when not in the theatre, Derek can probably be found running outdoors, blogging, playing the piano, traveling the country, and, of course, tweeting (@derekmong). Derek is currently obsessed with Disney's 'Newsies' on Broadway.


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