Painting the town

The Blue Man Group kicks off the second leg of its explosive world tour in Tel Aviv.

On the Tel Aviv Beach   (photo credit: LIOR KETER)
On the Tel Aviv Beach
(photo credit: LIOR KETER)
Fusing innovative music and scifi lighting effects, the Blue Man Group kicked off the second year of its world tour Monday night in Tel Aviv with a transformative performance celebrating the present.
Multi-sensory and magical, the shows feature three Blue Men whose bodies are painted blue, complemented by a band rocking out above them. During their performances, the Blue Men do not speak. Instead, they laugh, play instruments and perform little skits that have the audience howling.
In total, there are more than 60 active Blue Men, with the four currently in Israel rotating for performances. They, along with the band members, have been loving the Holy Land. Music director and performer Nils Westermann calls Israel a “melting pot of cultures,” and Blue Man Bernard Felix Haas has discovered that “everybody seems very alive.”
He adds that the Israeli energy is perfect for the Blue Man Group’s interactive performances. Each show is different, he explains; and while the shows’ framework stays the same, the performers feed off the audience.
In the show, the Blue Men are “on a mission,” Westermann says.
“Maybe we don’t know exactly what that mission is, but we try to get there.”
Haas says that the Blue Man character experiences an “augmented reality” that is “transformative” and “psychedelic” for the performers and the crowd. “[The show is] very hard to put into words, which is why we actually don’t speak,” he explains.
The shows feature never-before seen musical instruments, a percussion kit, lights, paints, visual art, impressions and lots of laughter. The musical inventions include the 86-stringed electric zither, one of the many instruments played by Westermann.
The zither, along with many other musical and technical innovations, was created in the Blue Man Group’s laboratory. The team of instrument builders, lighting effects specialists and many others constantly dreams up new ideas and replaces segments of the Blue Man Group’s show with them. These inventions also include new uses for ordinary objects, which is how such instruments as their giant PVC pipe organ were created.
Yet despite changes to the skits over the nearly three decades that the group has been active, the heart of the show remains the same. While performers have rotated — even women can be Blue Men today — the concept of three Blue Men exploring different scenarios remains the focal point of the show.
The idea originated in New York in the late 1980s when friends Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton led small disturbances in the streets while wearing blue masks and gained attention through their stunts.
“Their personalities formed the blueprint of the Blue Man character,” says Haas, and they continue to influence the show.
Describing the character’s blue color, Haas says, laughing, that “It was born out of a vision. And that vision happened to be blue.”
Westermann adds that because blue is a neutral color, it helps the performers mask themselves without creating connotations of other colors, such as angry red or happy yellow.
Behind the blue skin, flashing lights and innocent comedy of the skits lies a deeper message, as the performances inspire audience members to question reality and their connections with others.
“Having all that [physical appearance] stripped away, [the Blue Men] become more of a mirror for what’s happening in yourself,” Haas explains. “And when they do something and interact with the audience, even though they don’t speak, they don’t say anything, you know exactly what’s going on. But it all happens in your own mind – that’s why the connection is so strong. By the end of the show, what most people experience is that sense of connection and a heightened state of awareness.”
The sensational group, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, marked the special occasion with the release of its third album, titled THREE, as well as starting the current world tour.
The Blue Man Group was purchased by Cirque du Soleil in July, an exciting move that the performers hope will bring the show to new heights, while the musical focus will remain unchanged.
The Blue Man Group performs through August 23 at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv.