The Blue Man Group, a performance troupe that combines clowning, drumming, filmmaking, painting, and audience participation to create a unique live experience, brings "How To Be a Megastar 2.1," a satiric take on the arena rock experience, to the Desoto Civic Center on Sunday, April 6th.
Who are the Blue Men, exactly? After two decades in the spotlight, that question has never been answered to anyone's complete satisfaction. They've been variously described as hyper-curious aliens, weird cobalt-colored metaphors for childhood, and oxygen-deprived clones gone wrong. But none of that is quite right.
"They are most definitely not clones," says Mark Frankel, a 33-year-old New York native and three-and-a-half year veteran of the Blue Man Group.
Although the shiny performers are mute, earless males of approximately the same height and weight, who behave identically and function as a three-man collective, Frankel insists that the group's founders prize individuality and look for it when they are casting and training new Blue Men. He describes very little of the training process, though he says Blue Men study a wide swath of art and performance history — ranging from the stone-faced antics of silent film comedian Buster Keaton to the visually breathtaking experimental film Koyaanisqatsi — and are often asked to "do things that make no sense."
"Let me just say that there's a lot more to being a Blue Man than going out on stage and catching a bunch of marshmallows in your mouth," Frankel explains, referring to a famous bit of Blue Man business. "There's a difference between studying what other performers have done and imitating it and going out on stage from night to night, connecting with the audience, and doing something real."
The Blue Man Group was formed in 1987 by three friends who were employed by a New York catering company. Chris Wink, Phil Stanton, and Matt Goldman started out as high-concept buskers, performing unusual events such as "A Funeral for the '80s" in the streets of Manhattan. Today there are more than 60 Blue Men at any given time performing in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Tokyo, and Berlin.
"We don't ever get to have a big Blue Man get-together because that would mean everybody had to take a day off," Frankel jokes.
In addition to its stage work, the group has appeared in various commercials, most notably for Intel's Pentium processors.
"I think everybody is a little surprised by the success of the Blue Man Group," Frankel admits, acknowledging how weird it is that people respond to shiny blue mutes, as well as the undeniable impact the group has had on Broadway shows like the percussion-heavy Stomp and international performance troupes like Cirque du Soleil.
Frankel was born into an artistic family. His mother and sister were actors working regularly on Broadway, but acting wasn't his strong suit. He certainly never set his sights on being part of a bald, makeup-wearing avant-garde musical troupe that spoofs pop culture by banging on PVC pipes and chowing down on marshmallows and Cap'n Crunch cereal. Instead, he had rock-star dreams and grew up fantasizing about what it would be like to go on tour with Kiss.
"I became a Blue Man as the result of some pretty wild and random circumstances," he says. "I'd been playing drums most of my life and was working as a music engineer when I got invited to this party at a music studio. I overheard some guy talking about how he was looking to cast new Blue Men. I'd never done anything like that before. I knew it would be a long shot. But I thought it could be fun, and I was ready for a change."
But a change into what? Even as a Blue Man, Frankel can't quite explain what a Blue Man is.
"He's just this enigmatic thing," he says. "I think people are attracted to them because they are whatever you want them to be. People respond to their innocence and to their childlike sense of wonder at everything."
"How To Be a Megastar 2.1" is built around a concept originally introduced in a previous Blue Man extravaganza called "The Complex." It's a live-action instruction manual that teaches the audience how to be — and more importantly — how to emulate rock-and-roll stars. If there's a message buried amid the fun, it's that the "megastars" on stage have less to do with the power of rock-and-roll than with the tribal experience of being in the crowd.
"And it's a pretty great rock-and-roll show in its own right," Frankel says.
The Blue Man Group's "How To Be a Megastar 2.1" at the DeSoto Civic Center Sunday, April 6th, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 and $65.