The Blue Man Group has utilized flashing lights, vibrant color and live music to captivate audiences around the world since 1987. Since then, it has grown to include permanent shows in Las Vegas, Orlando, New York City, Boston and Berlin. It wasn’t until 1997 that the show found its Chicago home at Briar Street Theatre (3133 N. Halsted St..) It’s been there ever since and is now celebrating its 20th year in the Windy City.
The avant-garde production— starring three strange, blue-painted men— entertains people of all ages by treating them to a show full of crazy and colorful antics, such as playing an instrument made entirely of PVC or making splatter art by chewing paintballs. A mix of comedy, concert and modern art display, nothing is off the table when you’re with The Blue Man Group.
The music of Blue Man carries a distinct tribal feel that adds effect to each burst of color and gives the three performers onstage a voice with which they can emphasize their movement. The blue men will occasionally step off stage and scour the audience in search of a volunteer willing to participate in a segment of the show, which calls for precise improvisation. For this to be effective, there must be absolute synchronicity between the band and the actors onstage. The PHOENIX had the chance to speak to Eric Gebow, a Blue Man, who detailed this relationship.
“The three of us look to each other for help,” Gebow said. “Usually at least one of us knows what’s going on. There were times during today’s show when none of us knew what was going on. That’s when we look to Jeff [Quay] for help.”
Jeff Quay, the associate music director and drummer in the Blue Man band, detailed the importance of teamwork and visual cues that determine the pace and direction of the show. He also spoke to The PHOENIX about what really goes into creating the music found in a Blue Man production. When asked what makes Blue Man music unique, Quay said, “We can tell what is and isn’t Blue Man,” referring to the unique style of music the band produces for the show.
The band accompanying the blue men uses an array of instruments such as the Chapman Stick, an all-neck bass guitar crossed with a washboard that is played with either fingers or a bow. The Spinulum, a string instrument that looks like a small “Wheel of Fortune” wheel that strikes slide-adjusted guitar strings mounted on a stand to produce a guitar-like sound. The signature PVC xylophone, played by the blue men themselves, creates a synthesizer sound and brings the cacophony of instruments together to form a brilliant Blue Man song.
A production such as the Blue Man Group’s relies heavily on the hands backstage. The blue men have had a busy run this year, producing 22 shows per week during peak season, according to Jenn Kincade, the substitute stage manager for Thursday night’s show. Precise timing and constant set changes must be executed by the Blue Man crew throughout the show, leaving plenty of room for error. Thankfully, stagehands such as Jenn carefully watch every movement onstage, ensuring that the margin of error remains nonexistent.
All of these elements come together to create a truly exciting, multi-sensory experience that can’t be found anywhere else.
Tickets to a Blue Man Group show typically range from $65-$99, but Loyola students can get theirs for just $35. To purchase tickets, visit blueman.com/chicago/briar-st-theatre.