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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Blue Man Group Speechless New Tour’ a blitz in Appleton

Critic At Large

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

Blue Man Group. (Publicity photo)

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV)

Before they crashed, early computers would give one final notice: “Output overload.”

Whew…. The human brain experiences overload trying to absorb some moments of “Blue Man Group: Speechless New Tour.”

The main sight is a wall of computerized lights (flashing/in motion), screens in an array of actions, a couple dozen TV screens with each showing something different and many lights flashing here, there and everywhere (in eyeballs, too). And then there is music, almost always driven by a percussive flurry, with instruments variation upon variation of Imagination With PVC Pipes.

What an all-out blitz!

In a way, the show is a tribute to tech.

The human element comes in with the performers of Blue Man Group. Whenever they are not tat-a-tat-tatting on some surface, the three talk not but speak volumes. A quick turn of the head, a glaring glance, a stare, a twist of the torso – whatever body/facial English – and that does the trick. The speechless bit is an important part of the joy of Blue Man Group.

There is no story as such, in this show. I miss that element in the performance.

There is plenty of dazzle. And lots of percussion. And a playful aura with nobody cussing and nothing off color in all the playin’ around of the performers.

Friday’s opening night performance was to a full house in Thrivent Financial Hall of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. The place was festive in a cool-show way.

Audience members are included in the act twice. Friday night, a guy clued in to what to do with a rubber chicken with a squeaker – catch a rhythm, with a bit of dance, with a couple of the Blue Men. But then there was a young woman and a young man who didn’t get the drift of how to get into the flow, like do what to do over telephones. SAY SOMETHING! Duh.

Many brief scenes are stuffed into the production. Rhythm is only a drumstick away for most.

Some sequences are marvels of electronics with audio synchronizing. Sample: Two Blue Men leave the stage to retrieve a large package that supposedly has been delivered to the theater. Beneath the packing slip is a screen that is illuminated. It is a facial recognition device. Each Blue Man is not recognized. The device won’t work. One Blue Man puts a paper bag over his head and draws (by feel) eyes, nose, mouth, etc. – a face. No luck. What eventually makes the contraption work is only a few feet away.

The show ends with tricks of light, helped by an irridescent flyer in everybody’s program, and a SHA-ZAM show of lights and sound and floaty/fluttery/fly bombast.

It’s all oh-so-clever and inventive fun… with a beat.

***

Creative: Original creators – Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, Chris Wink; director – Jenny Koons; writers – Jonathan Knight, Michael Dahlen, Blue Man Group; composers – Andrew Schneider, Jeff Turlik; set designer – Jason Ardizzone-West; lighting designer – Jen Schriever; costume designer – Emilio Sosa; sound designer – Crest Factor; video designer – Lucy McKinnon; Blue Man character costumes – Patricia Murphy; SFX designer – Bill Swartz; creative director – Jonathan Knight; music director – Zachary Feivou

Blue Men (one who is an alternate): Meridian (Jonathan Clapham, a graduate of Lawrence University, Appleton), Mike Brown, Steven Wendt, Adam Zuick

Musicians: Corky Gainsford, Robert Gomez, Jerry Kops

Running time: 85 minutes

Remaining performances: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26

Info: foxcitiespac.com

***

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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