Arts » Theater + Dance

Blue Man Group at Clowes: a surprisingly intimate big show

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4 stars

Clowes Memorial Hall; through Sunday. You know you're in for a show when the first three or four rows of Clowes are populated with audience members wearing plastic protective parkas. With hoods. There's trouble ahead, and when it comes to the Blue Man Group, you know it's going to involve paint color — ergo, the protective parkas.

Others in the house caught the "uh-oh-we're-in-for-it" vibe as well, because prior to the show, as nearly every last seat in the house was being filled, various sections of the auditorium would erupt in rhythmic clapping and hoots and hollers.

It was... like a rock concert, and the most festive I've seen Clowes Hall be in quite some time.

Warning Guy kind of ruined the buzz, but only temporary, as the recording (I assume it's a recording) told us there were "certain procedures to follow," (exit strategies, don't use flash photography, etc.) which is a buzzkill of highest order (for the record, my wife finds his voice "comforting").

Blue Man Group had their own pre-show announcement, however, which delightfully undercut — and poked fun at — his. There were other pre-show festivities — displayed as words across two separate screens — such as random people being called out for applause (including yours truly who was asked to stand and receive the "love" of the entire audience — no, I was not embarrassed.), and hilarious interplay between the two screens.

By the time the show began we were loosened up and ready for fun — but a kind of fun I was not expecting.

Blue Man Group makes art. Right in front of our faces. They create paintings. They fashion propulsive, percussive rhythms on some highly technical instruments that nevertheless look like they were constructed in their garage on whateverthehell planet they come from. They pour brightly-colored paint on some of these percussive instruments; thus the need for plastic protective parkas.

It's a big show. There are numerous stage hands, four extra musicians, extraordinary grids of lights and computers, but the surprising thing about this show is how intimate it ultimately feels.

Last night these three blue humanoids entered the audience more times than I could count, engaging individual members in various pranks and japes. A couple of participants could have been set up beforehand, but ... it doesn't matter. What the performers created was a festive, spontaneous atmosphere.

Sure, it's a big show with lots of technology, but the joy of watching comes from observing the small things, such as the nuanced gestures of interaction between the curious blue beasts. It's slapstick on a microscopic level, which requires your intense attention.

Something really big and grand does happen late in the show, something completely unexpected, and something I'll never forget. Suffice to say that the blue beasts bring us to our feet to experience interactive fun that I wish would happen every time I went to an arts or music performance — and no I would never tire of it. Were I to say more, it might slightly undermine the surprise.

Lucky for you, BMG will inhabit Clowes Hall on the campus of Butler University through Sunday: Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. For tickets: www.cloweshall.org.

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