Interview: Blue Man Group

When attending a performance by Blue Man Group, resistance isn't so much futile as it is spectacularly beside the point.

Audience members have been scooping up tickets for more than two decades in the hopes of experiencing the Blue Man phenomenon, in which sensory overload on a grand scale results in the joyous, communal feeling similar to that of a group of strangers watching fireworks together on the Fourth of July. The group's fans flock to the extravaganza in spite of the fact that it is so loud and bright that the earth vibrates and they temporarily forget who and where they are. To the contrary — it's the whole reason they go.

But, for the first time, catching the show won't require a road trip to someplace like New York or Boston. The first-ever national tour of the Blue Man Group's regular production comes to the Hippodrome Theatre for a week starting Tuesday.

"This is our opportunity to bring our show to people who have never seen it," said Michael "Puck" Quinn, the show's artistic director.

"There are only so many markets that can sustain a sit-down show, and not everybody travels to New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando or Vegas. We've taken a slice of the rave culture and put it in an environment that people who would never consider going to a rave can enjoy."

The show features three beings of unknown origin — the founders emphasize that the Blue Men aren't aliens — who find themselves in a bewildering world, and respond with a mix of childlike playfulness and awe. The blue men all are bald, don't speak and have no ears.

In one classic bit, a mouthful of regurgitated marshmallows gets transformed into a sculptural "masterpiece." In another, a percussive melody is created by chomping down mouthfuls of Cap'n Crunch cereal. Later, an unwitting audience member is hauled up on stage, dressed in white coveralls and used as a human paintbrush.

Key to the show's success was the producers' ability to control every aspect of audience members' surroundings from the moment they walked through the door. For instance, the lobby of the Chicago theater is filled with water sculptures and oversized, ornamental pipes.

"Controlling the environment is really important," Quinn said. "A lot of the time when we're on tour, we're performing in historic theaters, they don't want us building a waterfall in their lobby. That's why we haven't toured before now."

Technically, this isn't the first time that the indigo invaders have left the comforts of home. In 2006, Blue Man Group launched its Megastar World Tour that traveled to arenas nationwide. The periwinkle musicians performed a hilariously deconstructed rock concert.

After the Megastar tour ended in 2007, the producers began adapting their regular show to the demanding confines of a tour.

Initially, Quinn said, the change in scale was daunting. Scenes that get a huge response in New York's Astor Place Theatre, with its capacity of 298, might not go over as well in venues such as the Hippodrome, which seats 2,286. Some favorite scenes from the past were scrapped, while other material was added to maintain the show's of-the-moment feeling.

"There are moments when people seated in the back are going to wish they were closer to the stage," he said, "and moments when they will see spectacles on the stage that people sitting up close won't see. The people in the back will have a different experience than people in the front, and in many ways the better one."

The tour takes advantage of such technological innovations as oversized LED screens that weren't available when founders Phil Stanton, Chris Wink and Matt Goldman first began performing in theaters in 1991.

"We have found ways to engulf people in the experience," Quinn said. "We incorporate a lot of different screens and a lot of projection to create a totally fluid feeling. People won't feel that they're watching a television show."

And in a way, that paring down has helped the show's creators define for themselves and the audience what is essential about Blue Man Group. As co-founder Stanton puts it, "Our show asks the question, what is essentially human? It comes down to three things: Humans are creative. We need to celebrate that and not ignore it. Humans are collaborative. You can live a hermit life, but it's more human to be part of a group. And finally, humans are curious, which is what brings us together in the first place."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Blue Man Group performs at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St., Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets cost $20-$75 plus fees. Call 410-547-7328 or go to france-merrickpac.com for show times.

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