Blue Man Group
The Sharp AQUOS Theatre, Universal Studios CityWalk, Orlando
I enjoyed another rejuvenating and resplendently debauched stay in Las Vegas earlier this year, traveling there with my best bud Peter Musante, who was about to see the Blue Man Group perform for the very first time. The special joy of the experience was that Peter, who had just returned from a half-year stint performing in an all-American-style musical revue at Tokyo Disney, was about to embark on a career as a Blue Man himself, a job offered to him even before he left for Japan.
Not often is a performer deemed so good that a company would be willing to wait half a year until he was available to join them, but if you have any doubts how this might be, you’ve never seen Peter onstage, where simply he is instantly recognizable as one of the most talented triple-threat (or should I now say quadruple?) performers anyone will ever have the privilege to see at work.
Aside from relentlessly studying and practicing drumming while he was warbling “Honeysuckle Rose” for Disney in Japan, Peter wasn’t sure how else to prepare for his impending conversion into Blueness, but he was instantly assured in Vegas that BMG would not compromise honing his skills as an actor but instead only enhance them. Backstage at the Venetian Hotel, the permanent Vegas home of BMG’s most spectacular theatre space, Peter was introduced and warmly welcomed as a potential future family member and, after seeing the show in its most theatrical splendor, he was quickly quite ready and willing to put Sondheim and LaChiusa on hold for awhile.
This was more than confirmed this summer when, after a decidedly truncated training period in New York and Chicago, BMG realized quickly what they had in the Chaplin-esque Mr. Musante, son of a Union Square mime who shared her gifts generously, and offered him the primo job opening last June as their star “Center” in their brand new and second largest venue, located right next to the Hard Rock Café (convenient for those who wait for cast members to shower off the Blue) at Universal Studios CityWalk in Orlando, Florida.
I was beaming like the mentor I’d like to think that I am to Peter seeing him, only four short months after his Vegas initiation into Blue World, pounding the primary colors out of his drum, losing himself in a loose-limbed interpretive dance that looks like something a tiny kid would do for attention while his parents watched music videos on MTV, and catching 15 or so day-glo marshmallows in his mouth—a feat only compounded when he adapts the mouthful of sugary excess into an abstract sculpture worthy of Auguste Rodin on acid, ultimately offering it for sale to the appreciative audience for a more than nominal fee.
The Orlando show, thanks in no small part to Peter’s enormous talents as a storyteller, is far superior to the version at the Venetian—and that’s not only due to the hawkers selling blue vodka jello shots in oversized syringes throughout the auditorium before the show begins. I think the phenomenon instead is due primarily to the limitations of the Vegas show’s understandable grandeur in a town which all but demands spectacle on a grand scale, something which then unavoidably somewhat negates the message BMG tries to share: how to retain our individuality and sense of humor in the stepped-up, technologically controlled media-crazed world of today.
Not that the theatre in Orlando isn’t spectacular, too; it just fares better at achieving a more personal relationship with the audience without resorting to the mammoth nose of a 747 jet gliding quietly onto the stage to up the stakes Vegas-style. In Florida, Universal has turned the former site of Nickelodeon Studios into a grand new home for BMG called the Sharp AQUOS Theatre, a surprisingly intimate 1,015-seat auditorium that’s so spankin’ new that, while Peter and his cohorts rehearsed onstage for the revamped venue’s inaugural opening night, they watched workmen finishing the space and screwing down the rows of seats.
The theatre and its futuristic common areas, sporting wonderful oversized graphics of blue tubing running along the lobby walls, is complete with bathrooms offering a little subliminal original song piped in on a continuous loop to remind everyone they’re peeing in a Blue Man Group environment, so anything can happen. That restroom is also a strange place to find oneself suddenly alone long after any other audience members have left (many of whom stay on after the show to pose for photos in the lobby with the cast to send home to Aunt Mildred) while trying to get the blue smooch-mark off of one’s cheek where a friendly familiar Blue Man planted a huge sticky cobalt kissprint in traditional BMG silence. Hint: It takes a fair amount of soap and plenty of those rough industrial strength paper towels to rid oneself of the telltale mark.
I have to admit that personally I found Peter’s newly adopted city of Orlan-doooh to aesthetically be something akin to a larger scale West Covina with lakes, except my glasses steamed whenever I walked outside (it was 106 with a 10 to 12-degree humidity factor when I was there in early August). Still I loved spending some quality time this summer with Peter and his two equally Blue roommates, Casey Sweeney and Patrick Branstetter, who share a cool old house in downtown Orlando complete with a backyard trampoline surrounded by vegetation straight out of Alice’s lookinglass and a well-worn DVD of the first season of Flight of the Conchords.
Having met and bonded bigtime in BMG training, and with Casey cast as a “Left” and Patrick as a “Right” — that’s stage-left and stage-right, by the way — these three can run through their entire performance in their kitchen while waiting for the microwave popcorn to beep. And when they do the show together (there are seven guys in Orlando alternating in all the performances), the show is absolute perfection. It’s the best BMG experience I’ve ever enjoyed, mainly because these particular guys all come from a musical theatre background, which adds that illusive magical spark and sense of safety to the interrelationship the characters share onstage. I’ve seen Blue Man Group at work several times, now including with Peter playing opposite two other Blue Men on either side, and frankly, there’s no comparison to a performance featuring The Amelia Avenue Three.
The show in Orlando is not that different from the other BMG venues, all of which feature the three perplexed participants trying to make sense of statistically-overwhelming voiceovers, digitalized video crawls slamming them and their audience with incredible amounts of data (including that more things are written in our computer age every six months than have been recorded in the entire history of our species), and thrusting oversized interconnecting PVC pipe upon them that the guys then magically transform into an enormously and nearly hypnotic three-man percussive musical instrument able to alter pitch and harmony by simply pushing the parts together or expanding the simple components.
Rock is actually a big part of the show, with a dynamic onstage band heavy on drum sets accompanying the trio’s own (successful) childlike attempts to turn random sound and discarded junk into intricate musical compositions, perhaps best exemplified when three unsuspecting audience members are brought onstage to have their ears hooked up to electronic soundmakers to produce something akin to a new composition by Phillip Glass.
Be forewarned that the BMG audience is definitely at risk, from the first few rows decked out in rain parkas to keep the many reclaimed items thrown or regurgitated by these overgrown blue-tinged bad kids from hitting them to the poor unsuspecting young woman brought onstage during each show to share a meal of precisionally-sliced Twinkies and have mashed yellow glop explode from her own chest. Even she fares somewhat better the guy who’s given his very own jumpsuit to don, which is then slathered in blue paint before he’s suspended upside-down by his heels and repeatedly swung into a huge blank canvas to create his own contemporary masterpiece not unlike some on display downtown at MOCA, then culminating in his emergence from a jumbo cylinder of wiggly red jello.
Even if you think you’ve escaped audience participation (rue being the folks often spotlighted after arriving late), think again, as by the end of the performance, reams and reams of recycled paper, not unlike that used in your very own bathroom at home, descend upon the entire auditorium from behind, forcing each and every audience member to keep it moving to the front of the stage or be buried alive in the process.
Why the Blue Man group show is so successful is a conundrum; seeing these guys perform is like watching grown men reverting to the simplest of imaginatively playful childhood antics on a grand scale and the result is both mesmerizing and, oddly, incredibly entertaining. Still nothing could be accomplished here without scowering the globe for guys like Peter, Casey and Patrick to slather on the blue greasepaint, guys with signature musical, athletic, and acrobatic talents who are also skilled performers ready and willing to make wonderful world-class fools of themselves as they poke fun at themselves and the human condition in general.
Peter was here in town recently for a too-brief two day visit for a wedding and to catch my performance as Shelly Levene in our ongoing production of Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena Theatre in Hollywood and, once again, it was so very cool to see my dear friend so happy and fulfilled without currently tapping directly into his numerous talent as an actor/dancer/singer. As he’s told me many times, BMG provides its performers with a palpable family atmosphere and those lucky enough to fit into the bald cap and all it entails are treated like gold.
There seems to be much about to happen in the near future for Peter in his career with Blue Man Group after his stint in Orlando ends next spring and, with any luck, I’ll be able to give you updates on his journey from various exotic and exciting locales throughout the world as time goes by. And as for squandering his gifts for musical theatre and other theatrical disciplines, as he commented recently, he could stay with the exceptionally generous and cooperative company for five years and just be turning 30 and ready to take Broadway by storm. Ah, youth. Rub it in, Peter; rub it in.
Blue Man Group is a permanent attraction at the Sharp AQUOS Theatre in Universal Studios City Walk, Orlando, Florida; for tickets, call 888.340.5476 or 407.224.3200.