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REVIEW: Blue Man Group makes grand return to Cedar Rapids

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Kelli Sutterman / Admin  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:58 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS -- The Blue Man Group returned to Cedar Rapids in triumphant fashion. With three sold-out shows March 23 and 24, 2013, the performers present one of the most entertaining shows in recent memory.

Founded in 1987 as a parody of contemporary art, so-called “action painting,” the show has developed into an international hit. Blue Man Group has played cruise ships, arenas, YouTube, TV and Las Vegas ... a long way from its beginnings in a small off-Broadway theater.

The original performances had a rawness, a wild unpredictability, that is no longer present. But this highly theatrical event still works.

It can be contextualized as a new kind of vaudeville. From the brilliantly inventive work of Mummenschanz (founded 1972), to the sophisticated visuals of Cirque du Soleil (founded 1984), to the junkyard inventiveness of Stomp (founded 1991), visual and sonic thresholds are being explored by the creators of Blue Man Group.

The work is dominated by colors: blue, orange, yellow, green and red. The colors are primarily liquid, making the first two rows of the theater very wet places to sit. Audience members in that section are given protective ponchos. The performance proceeds on the same level of pleasure as watching a winning football coach get drenched by Gatorade: an act of celebration and humiliation at the same time. But the performance is never violent, never sexy, never threatening. It is at times, however, quite gross. But it is always fun, if not downright silly at times.

Blue Man-itis is characterized by non-stop adolescent giggling, as the show speaks to the 10-year-old in all of us. You laugh till you cry. The show’s appeal is very wide-ranging, though it may be too loud for some. The music is mostly live, with bass speakers that literally shake the theater.

The Blue Men comment satirically on the use of the gadgets that have invaded our daily lives: mobile phones and tablets. High-tech can delight, but it can also alienate, and the men play beautifully off the effect on our lives of technological phenomena. These guys are innocents in a surprising, sometimes bewildering, digitized world. The sequence involving giant mobile phones was especially trenchant and delightful. I enjoyed the admonition, “Please refrain from texting during the show. It makes the older people feel inadequate.”

The Blue Men approach the universe with a childlike curiosity and a sense of wonder that pulls us in to the performance. They become our substitutes, our scapegoats, our “everymen.”

The execution of the performance requires precision timing. These Blue Men are very, very good in this department, particularly in the interaction with prerecorded video. They also are required to display considerable musicianship, with various percussive instruments made out of PVC piping. The marimba-like invention is fascinating to listen to, as well as to look at.

Related: Blue Man Group bringing theatrical mayhem to the Paramount this weekend

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