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A CurtainUp Review
Blue Man Group-- "Tubes"
By Barbara K. Mehlman
Most shows on and off Broadway can usually be described fairly conventionally as a play, with a format that we all understand usually two acts, dialogue among characters and a story line with a beginning, middle and end. But lately, more and more shows have begun to appear that defy the usual descriptions and can best be referred to as performance art.
Bill Irwin's Fool Moon quickly comes to mind because of its several successful Broadway runs (our review of the most recent incarnation). More recently De La Guarda and Thwak are playing to sold-out houses almost every night (our reviews of De La Guarda and Thwak). But the longest running of them all is Blue Man Group "Tubes," a piece of exhilarating experiential theatre with a cult following not unlike the film, The Rocky Horror Show.
Even if you never heard a thing about Blue Man Group ' just walking into the lobby of the Astor Place Theatre would tell you that something exceedingly unusual was about to happen; this is underscored when you walk into the seating area. The first thing you notice is that everyone in the first five rows is wearing plastic rain ponchos. A look around reveals strangely twisted tubes lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling, and rolls of what appear to be toilet paper secured to the front of the balcony and the back walls.
And then there are the headbands, crepe paper strips that audience members have donned and tied 'round their foreheads, knowingly, and with such confidence, that you get a sense they've been here before. An electronic "zipper" with moving red letters sends messages of greetings to the audience, who begin to hoot and holler; some stamp their feet. Finally, drumbeats, like rhythmic thunder, signal the beginning of you know not what, and this most extraordinary and inventive show explodes.
For two rapid-fire hours, a trio of expressionless men, heads coated in royal blue grease paint, accompanied always by inexorable percussive sounds, catch marshmallows in their mouths, spit up paint balls to create New Age art, down boxes of Cap'n Crunch, demolish Twinkies, and leak all manner of liquids through chest holes in their black two-piece costumes. Imagine the World's Great American Food Fight, or the contents of a garbage truck run through a Cuisinart and you'll have an inkling of the chaos on stage.
Involving as this action is, these three graceful men involve you still further, breaking the fourth wall as they enter the audience, climbing on the backs of the seats, scaling the balcony, looking for likely victims to bring on stage to join them in their mania. After having a go at it with a couple of good sports, the activity changes abruptly and the Blue Men confront the audience with still more hilarious shenanigans. No matter how Space Age, or space-y, your thinking, you will never come close to predicting what they might do next.
As Matthew McCarthy's brilliant lighting design turns the black set into a riot of dayglo colors that dazzle and defy explanation, the Blue Men heap surprise upon surprise, and paper upon tons of paper on you. Though you may consider yourself sophisticated, or cool, a person more bemused than amused, you will be involved.
As written, composed and produced by long-time friends, Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink, this may not be a pla but it's certainly theater. Despite its unbridled lunacy it has a structure; though without dialogue, it makes a statement. And it's most certainly a hit -- performed night after night to sold out audiences, to date logging more than 3700 performances, delighting theatregoers with its jazzed-up, psychedelic, out-of-body, childish and illogical sophistication.