Blue Man Group Chicago tests new instruments, material

Just one Red Line stop away from the Lincoln Park campus, the unassuming Briar Street Theatre sits nestled between nail salons and specialty restaurants. Although the building itself may be small, the spectacle it houses is a tried and true staple of both the Chicago theater scene and the entertainment industry as a whole. The Blue Man Group has been drumming, staring and prodding their way into the hearts of Chicagoans for almost 25 years now, but this season’s most recent additions include a decidedly modern twist on the tried and true formula that has made Blue Man Group so successful.

As always, the experience is immersive from the second you enter the theatre – part of what makes a Blue Man Group show so different from a musical or play is the constant reliance on audience reactions to fuel the comedy and narrative of each individual show’s performance.

According to Jeff Quay, the show’s associate musical director and drummer, each Blue Man Group show is unique to the energy of its audience – a Blue Man Group show in Berlin has a much different energy as opposed to a show performed in Chicago, not only because of the content of the performance, but also because of the cultural differences in what parts of the world find entertaining and funny.

However, one thing that stays consistent between all Blue Man Group shows is the core intent and message at each performance’s heart. Quay was eager to explain how he thinks of the performance as a sort of “healing experience,” referring to himself and his fellow band members as “electric shaman.” Quay feels that being part of the audience of the bizarre, absurdist performance helps audiences forget about the troubles of their daily lives, and simply get lost in the sights and sounds of every colorful performance.

However, just because Quay interprets the show as catharsis from reality, doesn’t mean that the performance doesn’t touch on modern issues or themes. Technology, in particular, was a recurring theme in the newer additions to the show – aside from tried and true routines that are included in every Blue Man Group show across the country, the Chicago performances feature a new piece fondly referred to by Quay as “light horns,” and other skits that incorporated elements of virtual reality and massive digital screens.

Although the performances themselves are certainly one-of-a-kind, there’s just as much intrigue about what goes on behind-the-scenes as what’s being shown on stage. There are currently six full-time actors who interchangeably perform as the three titular blue men, and, after removing the blue greasepaint, Tom Galassi was happy to discuss the ins and outs of how such a bizarre show comes together. Galassi explained how prospective blue men endure an intensive eight-week program before joining a regional or touring production, during which they learn the wide variety of skills necessary to perform in such a physically demanding show as often as four times a day. However, as long as the hours can be, both Galassi and Quay made it very clear how fulfilling being part of such a unique performance can be.

“If I were touring with a rock band, I would miss getting to meet and greet with the audience with the show every night,” Quay said. “It sounds cliche, but if I can make one person’s day, my job is worthwhile.”

If the audience’s reactions during the performance were any indication, his job is more than worth the long hours. The show, which was filled to the brim with futuristic, drum-based music and silent comedy, more than lived up to the reputation that Blue Man Group has established for itself. Whether you’re a long-time fan or you’ve never seen one of their performances, consider taking a trip to the Briar Street Theatre to catch the newest additions to Blue Man Group’s spectacular show.