New Men, Blue Men

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I remember my first Blue Man Group encounter vividly: the trek from my East Village walk-up on a snowy evening, the electric darkness as I waited nervously, not knowing what to expect -- and then BAM! Sensory overload as three men covered in brilliant blue paint took me on a dizzying journey of pulsing beats banged out on homemade PVC instruments, into a world where glow-in-the-dark paint is splattered onto twirling canvases while marshmallows fly through the air. And all without speaking a word.

If you haven't seen the Blue Man yet, you might want to cancel your Memorial Day plans and head straight to the Pepsi Center this Sunday night, May 25. It'll color your world.

Founded in 1988 by three struggling Manhattan artists, the off-off Broadway Blue Man Group has taken performance art and dropped it on its head, garnering rave reviews worldwide. And now, with The Complex,the group's first full-fledged national tour, Blue Man is going after something new: the traditional rock-and-roll show.

"We had this idea of deconstructing the rock-concert experience," says group member Kalen Allmandinger. "It's a natural progression. We're exploring different things."

So while the defining details remain the same -- three men on stage doused in blue greasepaint and heavy, tribal percussion -- much is different about this bluish incarnation. For the first time, lyrics will be used -- and not just any lyrics: Artists Dave Matthews, Esthero, Dan the Automator and Josh Haden all clamored to participate on the group's first rock album; here in Denver, live vocals will be provided by Tracy Bonham and Venus Hum. "Pretty much everything is different with this show," says Allmandinger. "But the lyrics -- that's by far the biggest jolt."

And instead of the bare-bones stage seen in New York, Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas -- the four cities with full-time Blue Man productions -- The Complex boasts a huge set by legendary production designer Marc Brickman, who has supervised the on-stage look of big-time acts such as Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. "We want to bring something fresh to the rock experience," says Allmandinger. "We want to see how many different ways we can get the audience to interact. We're trying to get a connection going."

Which is why, at its core, the Blue Man Group still wants to do something larger than just entertain you for a night. "There are a lot of underlying themes to our show," says Allmandinger. "It has a lot to do with urban isolation, which, as a society, we're being overwhelmed by. We live twenty feet away from other people and still feel completely alone."

"It's getting harder and harder to have that communal experience, and that's exactly what we want to give to people," he adds. "The immediacy of being on stage and sending out this energy and this message, and seeing the crowd throw that back at us by cheering, laughing, pumping their fists in the air -- it can be amazing on a lot of different levels."

And for Allmandinger, painting himself blue every night is all part of the fun. "Sometimes I feel like a kid playing with toys and making people laugh," he says. "We're part of pop culture now. It's a trip."

And one well worth taking. I recall walking out of the Astor Place Theatre that first night literally astounded -- and definitely not blue. -- Julie Dunn

 
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