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November 3, 2010

Blue Man Group rocks the Hippodrome

From the opening electronic ticker-tape messages, relaying birthday greetings and instructions on audience behavior (texting is banned, so older people “won’t feel inadequate”), to the deliriously multi-sensory finale, the Blue Man Group show at the Hippodrome Theatre packs a wallop.

The celebrated troupe, created by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, has entertained some 17 million people across the globe since debuting nearly 20 years ago. This Baltimore appearance -- performances run through Sunday -- marks the first national tour of the theatrical version that has been a fixture in New York, Las Vegas and other places. It’s a big, loud, funny, silly, visually arresting production.

Tuesday’s opening night crowd, which gave every indication of arriving fully prepared and stoked for the experience, enjoyed superbly timed performances by Kalen Allmandinger, Josh Elrod and General Fermon Judd as the blue men. (Four players, including Mark Frankel, take turns in the lead trio roles during the run.)

There’s no point in trying to classify what these performers, with their trademark blue faces and bald, ear-less heads, do onstage for the better part of 90 minutes. It’s much easier to go with the flow — and duck down in your seat when those guys start roaming the aisles in search of audience volunteers. (Late-comers may have a much harder time remaining incognito.)

In a way, you could say that Blue Man Group represents

the ultimate deconstruction of the dreaded genre known as mime. In this case, the wordless, expressionless protagonists, who can communicate richly with the smallest shift of the head, get to carry on with all manner of real, rather than imaginary, objects.

Looking awfully alien, yet ever so one-of-us at the same time, the blue men celebrate percussive effects and messy projectiles with the glee of a defiant teenager; splashing paint, vomited marshmallows and spewing Twinkies play notable roles here. These guys are animated by hard rock and the bossa nova to an almost equal degree. They just want to have fun, and they’re keen to share it.

The high-tech production includes many a brilliant effect, yet some of the most telling moments come from the simplest devices, such as PVC pipes, used to amusing rhythmic and melodic ends.

Periodic bursts of satiric wit are supplied by video and voice-over. One memorably sharp sequence is an ad for a “GiPad,” boasting three screens-worth of truncated literature — a “Synposize Me” version of “War and Peace” is down to seven sentences — that promise “to do for reading what texting has done for driving.”

You’ve just got to love a show that can mingle satire and regurgitation with such aplomb.


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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