Blue Man Group makes Hawaii debut
BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Kermit the Frog famously said it isn’t easy being green, and the life experiences of the Incredible Hulk generally prove the point.
BLUE MAN GROUP
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. June 21, 2 and 8 p.m. June 22; 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 23
Cost: $30, $55, $65 and $85 opening night; $40, $65, $75 and $85 all other shows; active/ retired military save $10 on 6:30 p.m. June 23 show with promo code “USA” or ID at Box Office.
Info: 800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com
Switch to the color blue, however, and — never mind that “ain’t got nothin’ but the blues” thing — things get pretty good, says Chris Smith.
Smith is on his way to Honolulu, touring the country and performing in blue grease paint as a member of the Blue Man Group — a trio of bald mutes with expressive eyes and bright blue skin who embrace the unknown with innocence and wonder.
“The Blue Man is looking at everything through fresh eyes,” Smith said.
He was calling from Houston, where the group was “tuning our drums and getting stuff together” in preparation for a weeklong engagement.
Blue Man Group comes to Honolulu for the show’s long-awaited Hawaii debut Tuesday. It’s the final ticket in a three-show package that began with “Wicked” in the concert hall last fall and continued with “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” last month.
THE FIRST challenge for a Blue Man is establishing a connection with members of the audience, Smith said.
In a world where “audience participation” is all too often structured to single victims out for embarrassment, he acknowledged that it can be intimidating to make eye contact with “three bald blue alien thingies looking at you that aren’t speaking.”
“But in the first two minutes of the show, you realize that the show is really funny, too,” he said. “It’s very unintimidating when you get on board.”
In other words, he said, the Blue Men “are not out to get you.”
There are actually four blue men “just in case someone gets sick,” Smith said: Smith, Shane Andries, Russell Rinker and Wes Day. All four perform on an equal basis, Smith said, declining to describe any performer as a “spare.”
“We all are equally ‘blue,’ you could say, and so on any given night it’s some combination of a trio of us,” he said.
Once the performers are in costume — a process that takes about 45 minutes — “my mom can barely tell which one I am,” he noted.
BLUE MAN GROUP, created in 1987, has grown into an entertainment empire with what Smith called “domestic city shows” in five mainland cities and aboard a cruise ship, as well as the national touring company that is coming to Honolulu.
The heart and soul of the show continues to be the experiences of three “bald blue alien thingies” as they interact with each other, react to unfamiliar objects and technology, and make contact as best they can with the people watching them.
“A big thing about our show is that despite all of the theatrics and the visuals that can be really big at certain times, there’s also moments that are very intimate,” Smith explained. “That’s the result of it all being centered on this character of the Blue Man.”
Is the Blue Man an alien? A humanoid made of paint? “We never like to make it that specifically constrained as to what a Blue Man actually is,” Smith said.
“A Blue Man show involves three entities that don’t speak and are voiceless, and kind of enter into this space of the theater with the audience — there’s no fourth wall. If anyone (in the audience) shouts or something like that, we very much acknowledge it; it becomes part of what we’re doing.”
WHATEVER THE three Blue Men may be — aliens, man-made humanoids or something else — they’re often surprised or perplexed by items we’re familiar with, and they embrace new information with a childlike literalness.
“It’s a fun way to look at things that you might take for granted, like cellphones or a Twinkie, and then imagining what it might be like for someone who’s never seen something like that to interact with it,” Smith said.
Exploration becomes invention in a bit by the Blue Men that has become a crowd favorite, when they take something we’re all familiar with — PVC pipe — and create a percussion instrument known as a “drumbone.” Sliding pieces of pipe in and out of each other, as when playing a slide trombone, changes the pitch and allows simple melodies to be played.
The drumbone has become one of the best-known items in the Blue Man Group repertoire; plans and build-it-yourself information are available online.
“I can assure you that there will be some drumboning going on out in Hawaii,” Smith said.
“The cool thing about Blue Man is that it’s all about exploration, and I think that goes along with the playfulness you’ll find with something like a drumbone.
“All this stuff is a call to action to get people out of their comfort zones a little bit, just enough that they can … start to get in touch with that inner child and have some fun.”
Why three Blue Men?
That allows for an odd man out. A cast of three Blue Men makes it possible to have a “group” (of two) and an “outsider” — and when that happens, one Blue Man might behave in a manner inconsistent with the other two.
SMITH BECAME a Blue Man two years ago. He majored in theater at UCLA and had experience in film and television when he auditioned in April 2011.
The path to “blueness” included six months of drum training and a month of Blue Man show training in New York; from there he performed with the Blue Man shows in New York, Chicago and Orlando, Fla., before joining the national touring group.
And don’t think of Blue Man Group as a mime act. The Blue Men work with four musicians who are the other half of what Smith described as a “symbiotic musical relationship,” with music and sound playing an innovative part in the performance.
“They’ll custom-tailor kind of a live score to the show each night,” he said, and one show is never the same as the next.
“It depends on what is going on that night, what the vibe is and what may or may not be happening,” Smith said. “They’re right there to pick up on it.”