Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 | 10:14 a.m.
It was 13 years ago, almost to the day, that Blue Man Group was introduced to Las Vegas as a trio of muted performance artists wearing skullcaps, their heads and faces painted a gooey blue.
The Luxor was the venue back then. The question was how this heretofore untested (at least on the Strip) performance-art troupe would fill a 1,200-seat theater.
That’s not entirely accurate, actually. There was another question: What the hell is this? In one memorable act during a 45-minute preview in October 1999, a Blue Man tossed 30 marshmallows from a distance of about 20 feet into the awaiting mouth of his blue-hued partner until marshmallows seeped from his face. Then the receiving Blue Man methodically regurgitated the white glop onto a black board, creating a glistening 2-foot-tall tower of marshmallows, and slapped a big $4,000 price tag on the front.
Sound familiar? At the time, it was about the weirdest and wildest thing we’d seen from a Strip production show.
Thirteen years on, Blue Man Group is an established artistic and commercial success in Vegas. The blue crew has left its home for the past seven years, the Venetian, and on Oct. 10 embarked on a residency at its third Strip resort, the Monte Carlo. Today, marshmallows are as commonplace and expected in Blue Man shows as the parade of soldiers is in Rockettes performances. Parents are now bringing their kids to a Blue Man Group show while promising, “Wait ’til you see what they do with the marshmallows!”
But we are way, way beyond marshmallows-as-art as Blue Man Group has revamped its show for the theater built for Lance Burton. Blue Man remains in the moment, even a step ahead, even as its co-founders are no longer the rising theater stars who brought the show to Vegas more than a decade ago. They are now the establishment.
“We’re not out all night anymore thinking up ideas at 4 in the morning,” Blue Man Group co-founder Chris Wink said after Tuesday’s showcase. “We’re not waking up in the middle of the night with something we absolutely have to start working on.”
Wink compares the maturity of co-founders Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman and himself with the growth of a great athlete.
“You know how Michael Jordan was the greatest dunker early in his career?” Wink said. “As he got older, he developed other parts of his game. He developed his jumper, and this show is our jumper.”
You also could say that the Blue Man overlords have simply hired someone to do their dunking for them.
“We have some of the best young designers and musicians in the world working for us,” Wink said. “We don’t want to be the ones to have ideas anymore. We need a perspective from those who are immersed in the club scene. We are not at Electric Daisy Carnival or in nightclubs anymore.”
A more recent member of the Blue Man Group creative team is Michael Curry, one of the great puppet designers in the world who has previously worked with Cirque du Soleil (examples of his work bound around the stage at “Ka” at MGM Grand). The result of the continued infusion of fresh ideas means that Blue Man Group is forever evolving.
That was evident in the preview performance. The first scene (well, second if you count the familiar digital message boards greeting fans at either side of the stage) is the display of two “GiPad” phones. The Blue Men poke at the oversized apps displayed on three vertical video panels. They message one another using the language of text correspondence (“RU serious?”) as one Blue Man floats the idea that the two might actually exchange in a face-to-face conversation.
“Creepy” is the response, glowing in oversize letters, and the Blue Man is swiftly unfriended.
“I don’t think iPhones or iPads are good or bad,” Wink said. “The value is in the hands of the operator. You can’t blame technology for anything if you’re not operating it properly. It’s a tool, and we are using that tool to entertain.”
As promised, too, robots play prominently in the new show. A brief history of automation is played on the LED screens showing robots assorting chocolates in a factory and in the form of unmanned, circular vacuum cleaners. The Blue Men return to the stage and display an ATM (automated, like a robot) next to a slot machine (same as an ATM) and connect a vacuum tube running from the slot machine to the cash dispenser, literally sucking money from your bank account.
The Blue Man Group’s lone female figure, a shapely, silver robot, runs a vacuum across the stage as sort of an updated adaptation of the robot maid from “The Jetsons.”
“We’re not making a point so much as taking technology and pop culture and sewing it together,” Wink said. “We try to make a joke out of it.”
The characters wear LED-lined costumes and swing light sabers. They examine the human brain as neurons shoot around the screen and across the stage. A half-dozen drums of varying sizes are turned so their open undersides face the audience and emit giant smoke rings as the Blue Men hammer away on the skins.
“We take what is silly and make it sublime,” co-founder Stanton said. “We use wind socks in this show (at the end, from both wings), and when you normally see these big wind socks, you don't think of a spectacle. But here, it’s a spectacle. It’s just a matter of how much you increase the scale.”
The Monte Carlo serves as a vast stage for the group, as a blue tunnel leads into the theater, which has been kept largely intact since the Burton days. A few dozen seats have been added to the area in the middle of the lower level. In a somewhat unnerving touch, Blue Man Group voiceovers and music plays in the men's room (and, it can be expected, the women’s room).
“We don’t want this to just be a show in a theater,” Wink said. “We want this life force to spill out of the theater.”
The life force of the Blue Man Group. Funny, all those years ago, no one was talking much about “life force” or the concept of turning gadgetry into high art.
“We will still have those quiet moments where we have just the Blue Men onstage,” Wink said. “We have those original-type moments, where it feels like you’re in a black-box theater.”
And the marshmallows?
“They’re still in the show,” Wink said, laughing. “We had to. I guess you could say it’s our Rockettes moment.”