By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In the process, Goldman, Stanton and Wink also birthed a new form of modern arts organization. Like a Delta Force of Merry Pranksters, The Blue Man Group Inc. is now a strategic collaboration among its guiding founders and a troupe of performers, musicians, technicians, lighting and set designers, music arrangers and producers and more. By recasting Homo sapiens as Blue Man, they've managed to create a cerulean league that makes money as if they were printing it and still manage to extol the original prime directive of sheer fun.
"We knew that the only way to preserve Blue Man was to take control of it and define it for ourselves, which was not an easy task," Wink explains. Especially when offers from movies to lunch boxes were being thrown their way. Yet now more than a decade into being blue, they've managed not only to capture lightning in their own bottle but also replicate in five standing troupes and a touring company cum concert.
When the album of Blue Man Group instrumental music struck gold, it was only natural for them to splash their colors across the rock world as they did the theatrical realm. Hence The Complex, the new Blue Man album abetted by such singers as Dave Matthews (whose first date with his now mate was a Blue Man Group show), Tracy Bonham and Gavin Rossdale, among others. As musical works go, it's as naturally canny a tapestry of musical threads as the theatrical show in that its fashion mixes high and low, serious and silly, and cosmic and primal. Riding the compulsively seductive river of percussion that is pivotal to the Blue Man shows, it trips many lights fantastic in a range as broad as that between the disc's two cover songs--the acid Wonderland of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" to the blueprint disco hit of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." As a modern musical pastiche, it succeeds even without the dazzling lights, spectacular staging, vivid projections and three enigmatic azure hosts and leads; all but the Blue Men themselves are pretty much approximated within the vivid music.
But it's those beings that ultimately give Blue Man Group the edge as an entertainment experience. As Blue Man blossomed, his symbology became evident. On one hand, he is a prehistoric cave painting of a man pounding on a gourd with a bone. On the other, Blue Man is an eerily familiar if otherworldly creature manipulating the tools of technology to master time and space. With his blue skin and black jumpsuit, he is the icon as everyman and nobody in particular, which plays right into the underlying concept of the Complex Rock Tour.
"Our whole idea was to play with the conventions of the rock concert experience," Wink says. The notion was to celebrate, poke gentle fun at and turn inside out all the hand thrusts, sing-alongs, showmanship and star worship that drive the live big rock event. And in doing so, create something perhaps even larger. "It's a show that people who go to concerts but don't go to the theater can enjoy as well as people who like theater and don't go to rock concerts."
Amidst it all, the Blue Men probably also have even more fun than your average rock god as well as little of the attendant pressures--be they Blue Men old or new. Matthew Banks is a Canadian actor who was a key principal in the Las Vegas production now "starring," as it were, in the Complex Rock Tour. For him, taking on the Blue Man guise--whose characterless anonymity the founders admit is intended to represent modern social anomie--is also as transformational as it was for the originators. "In a weird way it's easier to approach people as a Blue Man than it is to just strike up conversations with strangers as a normal person," he notes, "even though you just stare at them and don't say a word."
And even though the aptly named tour's myriad routines and cues are diverse, Banks marvels at how the spontaneity of its rebel-art origins still survives even for the hired guns. "A few shows back I was out in the audience by the light board when the hall went dark. I put out my arms and raised them up, and the soundman saw me do it and threw up the lights. Then the other Blue Men started doing it with me, and it became part of the show."
For the three founders, Blue Man Group is now a growing gravy factory with a set of offices, recording studio and theater rehearsal spaces in Lower Manhattan in which collaboration and inspiration can thrive and fun, fun, fun remains one of the benefits. "I can fly to Berlin for a press conference, come back to the office in New York for meetings and then go up to Connecticut for a show on the tour and get onstage and splash paint around and beat on things," Wink notes. "This has turned into something really cool."