Coloring Chicago: The enigmatic Blue Man Group in their own words


Courtesy of Blue Man Group

A central aspect of their routines incorporates music and art. One of their most well- known performances utilizes paint and drumming.

From their wide-awake eyes, to their strong brow arch, to their deep blue skin, the blue men of Blue Man Group are instantly recognizable.

What makes a blue man beyond the blue paint, however, is a bit of an enigma. The nonverbal performance is its own special kind of art. Even the performers themselves are still trying to tap into the character, but some say they enjoy the challenge.

“You can’t figure it out,” said Tom Galassi, the captain of Blue Man Group Chicago. “A lot of people can do the blue man character for so long because it’s impossible. You can’t figure it out, you can’t do it right. You have to throw yourself into it.”

Galassi was trained by the three original blue men in the late 90s and has been a blue man for 25 years. He says that trying to figure out who the character is makes the character fresh.

The magic of not being able to pin it down is part of what keeps the magic of Blue Man Group alive.

Brett Presson, the production stage manager of Blue Man Group Chicago, has been with the company for over 10 years. Doing 90-day runs of musicals and Shakespearian performances in the classic theater world was a completely different experience than Blue Man Group shows.

The show has had an unprecedented run. Blue Man Group celebrated 30 years as a company in 2021 and audiences still come in droves. According to Galassi, one audience member has even seen the show over 100 times.

“It’s a bizarre lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon,” Presson said. “Nothing runs this long. It doesn’t make sense. There aren’t full-time jobs in stage management, what I do. This is a unicorn job.”

The show is a unicorn in its own right, pairing metronomic performance with spontaneity and improv. The technical high-level precision drumming contrasts so well with the nonverbal acting.

Long before the audience members file into their seats, the drums roll out and before three men paint their heads blue, the members of the Blue Man Group are at Briar Street Theater, preparing to go silent for the 90-minute performance.

After warming up with practicing drumming routines or show segments, the group gets in the mindset of the blue man character. They may start jumping around, it may get quiet, the room can be filled with jokes and laughter, whatever it takes to prepare for the show.

“It can get crazy, the energy that we’re about to generate is a lot for all the performers; the band and the blue men,” Galassi said.

From the moment the audience walks into the theater, they know they are in for a different show.

Even before the blue men appear, the audience is encouraged to engage with the performance. An LED screen scrolls through instructions for the audience.

It’s an audience member’s birthday, so recite the happy birthday song. Don’t sing it, just speak it.

Clap for an audience member who is an “average individual of no particular distinction,” and congratulate another for completing the “great mustache pub crawl.”

The audience is engaged from the beginning, which makes the start of the show that much more exciting.

The blue men appear on stage, moving with purpose and seriousness. They hit drums so large that the sound reverberates in your chest.

But because this is Blue Man Group, you are not just getting a precise percussion performance, you are getting a show that combines spectacle and comedy.

Most of all, though, the performance is authentic.

“I’m showing you, when I put [the blue man] on, more of myself than I would normally,” Galassi said. “We’re ripping off our everyday mask that we wear to feel comfortable.”

The blue men are showing who they are and they want to see who you are as well. A good amount of the show is interacting with the audience. From bringing people onstage to throwing marshmallows into the crowd, to making intense eye contact with people and watching their reactions.

Galassi said that his favorite part is looking out into the audience because everyone engages with the show differently. He has seen people crying because they were moved, in tears laughing, scared, or even getting up and leaving because they were confused.

All of these reactions inform how the show goes. Some things are planned, while others are improvised based on the audience’s vibes.

“We have to get from A to B to C, but how we get there and how we do it is different depending on the audience,” Galassi said.

The energy from the crowd was electric with audience members on my left and right physically leaning in to watch the show. People were so excited that they could not contain themselves.

“Oh that looks so gnarly, this is going to be good,” an audience member said behind me when a giant instrument made of PVC pipes was brought out.

According to Graham McLachlan – the resident music director and band member of Blue Man Group – the show is still fresh after 30 years. He says the show is universal and does not go stale.

At the end of the show, once all of the audience members filed out, a crew took out buckets of water and hoses, spraying the paint, marshmallows and more off of the stage.

Even though the performance is technically over, the show continues. Even after 30 years, the show is still changing and evolving in the performance world.

“[We are] never actually done, which is pretty unique,” Presson said.