Entering Belk Theater last week, we encountered a trio of blue creatures doing things with cereal, paint and Twinkies that we were taught not to do as children. Repeatedly, the men of Blue Man Group had the capacity to be startled by the normal behaviors of a Charlotte audience — or the prodigies created onstage by their brethren. Wariness, wonder and a primal sense of fun are key colors in the Blues' emotional palette.
It would be so easy for the Blues and their audience to learn about each other if they communicated verbally. But the Group's main media are mime and percussion — plus the varied liquids and goops that happen to get in the way. The verbal barrier bends a little during the course of the evening, but it never breaks, so we're still making fresh discoveries about the Blues as their show comes to an end, and it seems plausible that they will retain a good portion of their curiosity the next time they encounter us.
Yes, in a sense, entering the theater world of Blue Man Group is a close encounter of the third kind. Having been tipped off on how the Blues respond to autograph requests, I brought a Creative Loafing notepad to the performance along with my customary pen. Sure enough, they were in the Belk lobby after the show, posing for photos, still in their makeup, and still in character. I patiently waited my turn and, proffering pen and paper, asked for an autograph. As predicted, the Blue disdained my pen, running his thumb through his makeup and stamping a blue thumbprint on my pad. (The stuff doesn't dry as quickly on a glossy program.) What I hadn't predicted was the little roar of delighted laughter that arose from lingering bystanders. Unintentionally, I'd become part of the act.
That little encounter may explain why the most delightful segment of the Blues' show may have been when they plucked a woman out of the audience and brought her onstage to serve with them on a four-creature panel. The purpose of the odd vest they strapped around her only became clear at the end of the segment when it began spewing, stripping away the hysterical, easily abashed woman's last vestiges of adult and human superiority.
Granted, I'd seen the spectacular illuminated kettle drumming with the glowing red and green paints when I first experienced Blue Man Group nearly five years ago in Toronto at a far funkier location. First-timers might have been more blown away by that bit. For sheer schadenfreude, the spotlit embarrass-the-latecomers segment — captured on video and splashed across an onstage screen — would be hard to beat.
Spanning the chasm between the audience and the unique Blues was a high-tech stage set featuring projection screens that frequently ran text, smaller digitizing screens that came down from the flyloft, and a six-man rock band. An unseen voice cued us on when to do our obligatory rock audience moves and when to return the huge illuminated balls that had been loosed upon us back to the stage. Voice got spontaneous laughter for his balls double entendres, reassuring me that the whole balls shtick hasn't been worn out online.
There was one calming segment, when the trio conspired to play varying lengths of plumbing like a marimba, reminding us of their proficiency as percussionists. Of course, when gumballs get thrown across the stage, caught in the mouth of a chameleon-like Blue; or a ginormous GiPad gives each Blue a box of Captain Crunch, and that popular cereal makes its way across the footlights; we are forcibly reminded that there is a childish wildness in us all, eagerly waiting to be roused.
Another reason why I felt so satisfied with my autographs. Yes, I got two.