Blue Man Group splashes into rhythm
A dazzling theatrical performance by three actors in bald caps and blue makeup
Blue Man Group
Charles Playhouse, Boston Theater District
A faint but heavy pounding noise can be heard on the southern edge of Boston’s Theater District, an unmistakable sound that has shaken the walls of the century-old Charles Playhouse theater year-round for almost 30 years. A rave? Perhaps. Maybe just a loud bar? It’s no surprise that a rowdy atmosphere is ever-present in one of the many cabaret-style nightlife attractions that the district presents. But distinct from the other venues in the area is the form of merriment that the theater presents — a startling but enticing mix of lighthearted music, laughter and surprises.
Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to take a moment for you to note the emergency exit signs. In the event of an emergency, please leave your chairs and make your way to the emergency exits. Again, please leave your chairs in the theater — they are bolted to the floor. Just consider the energy it would take to remove them, and they probably won’t match your personal decor in any way.
As the theater sits in darkness at the beginning of the show for a nearly 10-minute opening routine, the pounding noise morphs into a rhythmic drumming beat. Then two. Then three. The opening performance continues adding elements, introducing the main features of the show — lights, paints, drums, and the audience itself — and its core theme: the determined inanity of three speechless so-called “Blue Men” as they navigate their way through the 90-minute runtime of the concert-play amalgamation that is the Blue Man Group.
The show merges together extended sequences of live instrumental techno and psychedelic rock with performance art involving paints and marshmallow sculptures, all cobbled together in a story-like structure as the three wide-eyed but resolute Blue Men take their childlike determination through a series of routines that showcase and deconstruct the world through their eyes.
The set itself is visually and practically stunning, a tailored stage equipped with the many props that the characters interact with, from spinning paint canvases and three Blue Man-sized smartphone displays to their signature Drumbone, a paint drum and thongophone instrument.
Actor Kean Haunt, who has been playing a Blue Man since 2018, noted that the strangeness and resulting uniqueness of the show comes from the Blue Men’s onstage personas.
“The character doesn’t speak. You have to be very expressive with just your body, and you get to really play with all of the implicit body language stuff that is active in everyday life and interactions. It really comes to the forefront in a Blue Man Group show when you’re not able to use words and yet you have to carry along a story and make sure the audience is there with you, understanding what you’re trying to put across,” Haunt said.
Each production features three distinct actors in bald caps and blue makeup — the eponymous Blue Men — interacting with both each other and the audience in a multitude of ways. While the similarities in the ways their innocence manifests in the real world may suggest some inherent sameness in their personalities, each of the three personas is actually rooted in a different facet of the human experience.
“Throughout the show, as the pieces unfold and you watch how each individual handles the new information that’s coming out, you start to recognize the little differences [between the characters] ... We sometimes talk about if the Blue Men have each been handed different parts of the manual for being human. They’ve each been handed an incomplete copy,” Haunt said.
Accordingly, the way the Blue Men fulfill the expectations set in these manuals lead them to their own individual personalities.
“Generally, the left Blue Man has the most information but being kind of mischievous inside, uses that to toy with the other ones a little bit ... The right Blue Man is a little bit more action-oriented, a little more courageous, more game to just try something ... The center Blue Man has the least information and is the guy in the middle trying to hold these two competing energies together,” Haunt said.
From a storytelling perspective, the dynamic between the three naturally gives rise to their different hijinks. But from a technical perspective, the necessity of keeping a solid flow throughout the show and allowing the characters to realistically respond to their situations poses an interesting challenge to the three actors as they have to keep on the same pace with one another and remain within that dynamic as they respond to different obstacles, interruptions and situations that emerge during the show.
A balancing act then has to come with every show between maintaining the script and simultaneously being ready to abandon it at the slightest change.
The three silent Blue Men that star in the production are like a 21st-century Moe, Larry, and Curly, drawing inspiration from those kinds of silent-era slapstick-style comedy routines but also building on the concept. Even within the show itself, innovation has to take place continuously — a necessity to keep up with changing audiences as the worldwide performance group pushes past over three decades of production.
“The script of the show is very heavily annotated by every Blue Man who has come in and learned the role and then passed that onto another person. So, that’s a really interesting thing that even if you’re to write out, beat for beat, what’s supposed to happen, there’s a lot more beneath that,” Haunt said.
Much of this show-by-show variation and improvisation as well as the more overarching gradual alteration with the show’s script comes from both the differing styles and dynamics that each Blue Man brings to the show and the unpredictability of the actors’ interactions with their audiences. In the Boston group, there are six actors that rotate in and out of each production, with Haunt playing either the left or right Blue Man when performing.
A staple of the show’s current production is the routine “The Match,” which was developed in Boston — at around the time Haunt joined the Boston group — and later spread to the other productions.
“[In ‘The Match,’ we] go out into the audience. There’s this sort of weird couple of minutes where we’re just walking around, taking in the people to try and find two people who we think would be good to play with. Then we bring them up, and we do this piece that’s scripted but a lot can go wrong because the two audience members we get — they don’t know the script. Sometimes, they have their own ideas,” Haunt said.
This kind of joyous uncertainty and go-with-the-flow attitude drive the show at its very core and allow its nonsensical lightheartedness to take centerfold. The Blue Men, in all their innocence and curiosity, present another way of seeing the world through a kaleidoscopic lens.
“The Boston Blue Man Group has a reputation in the company as being a big family, and I think that has really proved true. People come in and are genuinely excited to do their jobs and put on a show and see what's gonna happen each night. I got into theater to hang out with my friends — that's kind of what's happening now, so it's been really great,” Haunt said.
As per the production:
Blue Man Group Boston has brought back their popular student rush tickets for the thousands of college students that attend area colleges & universities.
For just $30, students can see the one-of-a-kind pop culture sensation, Blue Man Group, which mixes art, music, comedy and dance into the most unique theater experience in the Boston area.
In addition to the fun-filled show experience, students 21+ can enjoy an adult beverage in the lounge before the show. Everyone can share their experience on social media using the hashtag #BlueManBOS!
Student rush tickets are available year-round. Students will need to show a photo ID to purchase tickets available in person at the Charles Playhouse Box Office on the day of the show. For more information on student rush tickets, check out www.blueman.com/boston/discounts/studentrush.