Thursday, Feb. 24, 2000 | 9:03 a.m.
What: "Blue Man Group: Live at Luxor."
When: Opening Friday. Performances are 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 7 and 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; dark Mondays and Tuesdays.
Where: Luxor Live Theatre.
Tickets: $71.50, $60.50 (tax included).
Information: Call 262-4400.
Fittingly, the last name of one of the Blue Man Group's original members is that of an unspoken gesture.
A full scope of facial expressions, broad body language, assorted soaring objects, flying paint and tubular tunes are the collective trademark of the visual and tempo-driven carnival that is the Blue Man Group. Founded by New York buddies Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton in 1988, "Blue Man Group: Live at Luxor" opens Friday at the Luxor Live Theatre.
The Blue Men step in for the quickly forgotten "Imagine," which occupied the theater until the end of December. The Blue Man Group is scheduled for an extended run. The night-to-night lineup of the alternating cast has yet to be determined, although Wink, Goldman and Stanton will be performing once they feel comfortable with the show's progress.
"We'll be working on details through the summer," Goldman said this week prior to rehearsal at the Luxor. "It takes a lot of attention to detail."
For the uninitiated, the Blue Man Group is made up of three men dressed entirely in cobalt blue suits, their faces and heads gleaming under wet blue paint. Their act consists of pounding on tubes to make pulsating music, creating abstract art with a semi-regurgitated marshmallow globule (it's actually pretty funny) and crafting surreal paintings as multicolored paint splashes off snare drums.
It's not necessarily comedic, but the audience never stops smiling. It's a free-flowing performance executed with machinelike precision that takes months to master.
Relating the preparations to bring the category-defying performance art production to the hotel's revamped 1,200-seat theater, Wink said, "It's like having a leash on a dinosaur."
Which is both good and bad.
"We've got a leash on it, but now what do we do with it?" Wink said. "We're constantly working on how to utilize all the space we have here."
In doing so, Wink, Goldman and Stanton -- all of whom remain as fervent and meticulous as new parents in the handling of the show -- have had to make changes in presentation.
"We want to make each piece (of the act) to be the center point on stage at any time," said Goldman (who, incidentally, bears an uncanny and even unnerving resemblance to a young David Brenner). "We'll have to have a lot of movement behind the scenes to set up different pieces and keep everything moving seamlessly. We have to make sure we have the audiences at the right place at the right time."
Also in place is a $1.5 million sound system and 11 digital projectors to help enhance the visual experience. The Blue Men also plan to make the show entirely interactive, moving in and out of the crowd and making the theater itself part of the stage. Long tubes will descend from the ceiling and the trio are backed by a day-glo, 16-piece band.
Pulling it all together in the expansive theater is no small endeavor. The Luxor Live Theatre poses a challenge because the Blue Man Group's act has always been played out before intimate crowds.
New York's Astor Place Theatre, where the Blue Man Group debuted off-Broadway in 1991, seats 298 people. The Charles Playhouse in Chicago (where the Blue Men have appeared since 1995) seats 524 patrons and the Briar Street Theater (a Blue Man haven since 1997) has a capacity of 626 customers.
All three theaters sell out regularly and it can take weeks to obtain a choice seat. But in Las Vegas the Blue Man Group has thrust its production into a highly competitive entertainment region and is playing in a venue roughly double the seating capacity of its largest hall.
And, at $71.50 and $60.50 per ticket, the Las Vegas production is the highest-priced of the four Blue Man productions. But the group is optimistic it can succeed nightly at the Luxor.
"We're looking at how other shows are doing that are different and unique, like ours," Wink said. "The Broadway-style shows, like 'Notre Dame de Paris,' we hope do well, because it means that there is a definite trend toward unique entertainment."
The Blue Men can be encouraged by similarly surreal, vocal-free ongoing Strip productions such as Cirque du Soleil's "Mystere" at Treasure Island and "O" at Bellagio, which have been widely accepted in large theaters at a lofty ticket price.
"I think Cirque du Soleil did pave the way somewhat for (Blue Man)," Wink said. "I think people who do enjoy Cirque can easily enjoy what we do."
While they continue to direct and fine-tune the Luxor show, the original Blue Men will also eventually be part of an eight-man rotation of performers to star in the Las Vegas production.
Three new Blue Men are already in place: Jeffrey Brown, Matthew Banks and Scott Kinworthy. The three are alike in age (ranging from 24-26) and size (about 5-foot-11). They also share a passion for performing.
"A friend had told me about the group and it sounded a little off to me, but he was saying I should try out for it," said Brown, who was living in Oakland, Calif., and playing in a club band when he first learned of the Blue Man Group. "I was kind of searching for something different, and my background as a musician and someone who studied acting, it definitely was something I knew I'd enjoy."
Like Brown, Banks contacted the Blue Man Group's casting department during one of the group's endless talent searches. Banks was living in Milton, Ontario, when he noticed a Blue Man Group flyer posted at a small neighborhood theater.
What sets Banks apart is his background. He was a singer, having taken part in local musicals, but was seeking a change.
"I was looking for some deep acting jobs, but I kept getting singing jobs," Banks said. "But this is very rewarding. Taking on a character so pure, so heroic in his intensity and genuinely aware of what's going on around him."
It can be difficult shedding the character, however.
"I've had people tell me, 'You're acting very Blue Man today,' " Banks said. "I don't know what that means. I'm definitely not wearing the makeup. Maybe it's the way I'm walking."
Kinworthy was also a musician -- a drummer -- working throughout Florida when he was "discovered" by Blue Men casting officials while walking through a music fair.
"I had the size (5-11, about 155 pounds) and the look, I guess," Kinworthy said. "They asked me to audition and I thought about it for a few days and said, 'Why not?' "
The audition process is never easy. Some potential Blue Men try out repeatedly, some for more than a year, before earning acceptance. What follows is an intensive training period, lasting up to eight months, which is tailored to each performer's skills.
For example, if you're a fine actor and display an innate ability to catch marshmallows in your mouth, but wouldn't know a drum stick from a pork chop, you will learn to play drums.
"My training lasted 7 1/2 weeks, exactly," Kinworthy said. "It was very demanding."
Banks said: "If you don't know how to drum, they'll teach you to drum, believe me. It's a major part of the show."
Having expanded from the original three, the Blue Men remain an exclusive lot. "We've got about 30 Blue Men in our productions," Wink said. "We've auditioned between 5,000 and 6,000 and only 30 have made it."
The resulting collection of eclectic performers makes for a like-thinking society. "It's a natural that anyone connected with the show is going to be very creative and be open to new ideas," Brown said. "It's a job, yeah, but it's also somewhat like a family. It's a happy show because we're all sharing the same unusual experience."
Playing the role of a sage mentor, Wink then seized the comment and said, "See, we've got their minds under very firm control."
Then Wink asked the three new Blue Men, "Men, how do you like being a Blue Man?"
In unison, the trio responded in monotone: "We love Blue Man."
"See?" Wink said, laughing, "we're very much into conformity."