If you'd told me in 1997 that -- ten years later -- I'd be back at a packed-to-the-gills Briar Street Theatre watching a mute but weirdly expressive trio of cobalt dudes drumming and splattering, I'd have said you'd ingested too much blue paint.
Back then, most of us in the press gave "Blue Man Group" a couple of years. At the top end. At the very least, I thought, long-term survival would require a new show every six months, Second City-style. I saw the appeal, but thought people would get weary of the guys doing the same shtick with the Captain Crunch.Wrong. Now just a few weeks shy of its 10th anniversary in Chicago, "Blue Man Group" has had only one significant overhaul -- there's now a cool new animated piece set in an Internet cafe. When this show opened, my predecessor Richard Christiansen aptly called it "the perfect entertainment for the 1990s." It has long outlived that designation.
AOL on my 14400 modem. But that sense of techno immediacy has been deftly replaced by a kind of "Brazil"-like
charm. Even if some of the LED displays are looking frayed around the edges, the show has morphed into a peculiarly appealing blend of the progressive and the comfortingly retro.
This is to be cheered. Unlike a lot of its peers, the guys behind "Blue Man" understood early some rapidly changing truths about live entertainment.
They created an event, rather than a play. They married spectacle with emotional engagement. They created a show with broad family appeal (anyone who can tolerate the ear-splitting volume will likely have fun). And -- most important of all -- they ignored the conventional wisdom that mass audiences like dumb entertainment.
"Blue Man" quotes Bertolt Brecht, posits sociological theory and spews Twinkies. And, you know, people relax more when they feel like they're in the hands of smart artists. You can take your out-of-town guests and retain your dignity, if not all of your hearing.
"Blue Man" now also plays in larger venues in Vegas and the like. But the slightly claustrophobic Briar Street remains an ideal place to see a show that's all about the formation and manipulation of community. Last Thursday night's show was like a time warp. Once again, three semi-anonymous Blue Men were staring, quizzically, in your face.
'Blue Man Group'
A trio of blue-headed performers drum, hurl food and speak volumes without ever saying a word.
When: Open run
Where: Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted St.
Price: $49.50 to $59.50, 312-902-1500