That’s how long it’s been since I last saw the Chicago production of Blue Man Group — that enduring piece of mixed media performance art featuring a trio of mute, bald, electric blue, otherworldly performers who catch marshmallow’s in their mouths, drum new-agey tribal beats on PVC pipes, and crawl over chairs in a quest to select their next victim for bizarre onstage hijinks.
The reason for my return trip was to not only revisit what my 16 year old brain considered mind-blowing, but to also see the new material recently added to the show — changes made in an effort to sync it up to our modern ways.
But before I go into what’s new, let’s discuss why this off-loop show has endured for so long.
Aside from the obvious qualities of splatter and spectacle, Blue Man Group‘s appeal, I think, stems from its surprisingly insightful observations on information overload. This theme hit a raw nerve when the show premiered in the mid ’90s, as the internet age was exploding and multi-media was omnipresent.
But, my: how far we’ve come. It seems almost impossible, but 1997 (the year BMG opened at Chicago’s Briar Street Theatre and the year I saw it) was before the age of Google, Facebook (even MySpace), YouTube, widespread high-speed internet and mp3 players. Even cell phones and texting where novelties — at least where I grew up (Northern Michigan).
With all these fancy tools at our disposal, how better off are we?
And here’s the irony: while we’re connected with each other like never before, we’ve turned into a generation of people who hide behind our handheld devices rather than engaging with the people around us.
Even phone calls are becoming passé: data plans are surpassing voice plans.
Our relationships are evolving — or dissolving, depending on how you look at it — into data bits.
With all this in mind, the new stuff they’ve put in this refreshed version of the show is pretty awesome — insightful but always entertaining. The biggest additions are three giant smartphones (essentially iPhones) that descend from the rafters that the Blue Men poke and swipe at with their patented stone-faced, wide-eyed amusement. There’s also a new, more eco-friendly finale that reduces the toilet paper waste by supplementing it with six giant, glowing Zygote Balls. It’s a full-out party every night at the Briar Street Theatre.
But, while there are a few new gimmicks and flashy toys, the core of Blue Man Group remains unchanged. Our mind-numbing modernities, regardless of their technical complexity, still serve as playthings to these cool, blue dudes, and they continue to shake us back into reality with bass-filled drum beats and that ever-exhilarating “will they pick on me?” audience interaction technique.
There’s no hiding behind your handheld at this show.
This is a visceral, loud, energetic production that remains among my favorite Chicago theatrical experiences. And nearly a decade and a half later, my mind was still blown. Let’s hope the Blue Men stick around another 14 years to keep us in check.
“Blue Man Group” is playing at Briar Street Theatre, 3133 North Halsted, Chicago. More info here >