Performance art meets rock and roll fantasy in Blue Man Group

For evidence that Blue Man Group might be more than just Stomp with Smurfs, we turn to its musical director Julian Cassanetti.

For starters, he says, Blue Man Crew is more like a rock show than people might realize. Starting an eight show run at the Jubilee Auditorium Tuesday night, a lot of what happens is based on improv, depending on how the audience reacts – just like a rock concert. Except that the stars are blue and don’t talk.

“It’s like being in a band,” Cassanetti says. “Every show is different.”

This guy was a real rock musician before going Blue, starting as an usher in 2000 before landing a spot as a guitarist” in 2004. Prior to that, he spent two weeks studying at the Berklee College of Music in his hometown of Boston, but quit over a matter of poor taste. Asked to bring in a favourite piece of music and all his classmates brought Dave Matthews songs, Cassanetti came up with Bad Brains – which was effectively rejected by the professors. Bye, bye, Berklee. Rock credibility established.

Cassanetti say he’s always liked to explore and experiment – just like the famous franchised trio of “emotion-less, ego-less” bald blue mimes he works with now. “I used to be the guy in the band who would say things like, ‘hey, can we mic this lightbulb and see what sound it makes? What if we stuck a screwdriver into this circuit and stuck a wah pedal on it?’”

Important disclaimer: Do not stick a screwdriver into an electrical circuit to see what sound it makes. Like the Mythbusters say, don’t try this at home. It’s only necessary to add this statement due to the curious yet clueless nature of the Blue Man, like a child, or an alien, or a person from the distant past faced with a fantasia of modernity, eager to explore everything, yet unable to fathom the simplest things like opening a candy bar wrapper. In this show, they examine all the bleeping communication gizmos without which the entire global economy would come to a screeching halt, since everybody and their iDog has to have one. Also new, says Cassanetti, is an exploration of junk food – wait, they’re not going to be throwing food into the audience, are they?

“I will neither confirm nor deny that,” he says.

There’s a high element of satire in this show, too, leading one to ponder the question: if you make fun of something long enough don’t you wind up becoming the very thing you’re making fun of? Let’s get real here: Watching shiny, stare-y mimes whomp PVC pipes, shoot Cap’n Crunch into the audience and play with giant iPhones for nearly two hours sounds pretty silly when you put it like that. But it’s as much social examination as it is parody.

“It’s an exploration of the things we take for granted, putting them under a spotlight under everyone’s noses until you realize, oh, yeah, that’s crazy,” says Cassanetti.

Then there’s the danger of reading too much into it (a lot of dangers here, it seems), of taking it too seriously. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune contained this sentence: (Blue Man Group) “has always prided itself on being an amusing-yet-contemplative reflection and refraction of the current cultural gestalt.”

Cassanetti reacts to the prose, “Hoo, boy.” But he figures you could split the difference, “You can take it as weird blue guys doing funny stuff, to the really deep cultural narratives of where we are today as a culture. It’s both and neither – it really is its own thing. Are you a nine-year-old girl who likes ponies? You’re going to like this show. Are you a 70-year-old-man who’s been through wars? You’re going to get something out of this show.”

Let’s see Stomp make that claim – or the Smurfs.

READ Adrian Lackey’s review of the show here.