Going bananas with Blue Men

The instruments played by the Blue Men are often spectacles themselves – some of them are made of PVC pipes.
The instruments played by the Blue Men are often spectacles themselves – some of them are made of PVC pipes.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

The Blue Man Group goes through about 800 bananas a week for its performance, a mash-up of a rock concert, dance party and theatre show

Food is a big part of the Blue Man Group's act.

In a week of performances, the trio of bald and blue characters go through 800 mashed-up bananas, 240 marshmallows, 96 pieces of white chocolate Toblerone, 14.5kg of Jell-O, eight boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal and 40 boxes of Twinkie Lights (an American cake snack).

Singapore audiences should expect no less for their shows here - 55 bananas will be used in each 100- minute show - which are on now until April 23 at the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres.

The show - a mash-up of a rock concert, theatre and dance party - is celebrating its 25th year with a world tour, with Singapore as its first stop. It is also here for the first time.

The marshmallows are used for target practice and the cereal is for sound effects. As for the bananas and the rest of the food, people will have to be there to find out.

The men in bald caps and blue make-up are not big talkers. They speak through their strange, almost alien-like facial expressions and gestures, while showcasing mad skills - they are especially proficient in drumming.

For the first few years, we had no idea it would even pay the rent. We were just doing something because we loved it. We took it seriously and worked really hard, though we didn’t think we’d ever make a living from it.

PHIL STANTON, one of the original Blue Men, who began performing in 1991

  • BOOK IT / BLUE MAN GROUP

  • WHERE: MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, Sands Theatre, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Till April 23. Tuesday to Friday at 8pm; Saturday (tomorrow & April 9) at 2 and 8pm; Saturday (April 16 & 23) at 2, 5 and 8pm; Sunday at 1 and 6.30pm; Sunday (April 17) at 1pm

    ADMISSION: $90 to $155 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: www.marinabaysands.com/BlueManGroup

But when the original Blue Men - Phil Stanton, Matt Goldman and Chris Wink - first burst onto the streets of New York in 1991, they did talk. It was only after transitioning to the stage that they realised the characters need not speak.

"They express something that's even before language. It becomes more universal in that way," Stanton, 56, tells The Straits Times.

When the trio of original founders - fresh out of college - debuted their characters on the streets, Stanton recalls with a laugh that "some people were startled. Others said they 'got it', which I still don't understand. But people resonated with us."

Though he looks different, the Blue Man is meant to mirror humanity, he adds. "When we created the character, we were searching for what was essentially human."

After performing in small venues, they put on Blue Man Group: Tubes at New York's Astor Place Theatre, their first off-Broadway show, and it just got bigger from then on.

The show has since travelled to 15 countries and has been watched by more than 35 million people worldwide. The company has permanent shows running in US cities such as Las Vegas, Chicago and Boston, as well as Berlin, Germany. Today, there are around 50 Blue Men.

The group continues to play at the Astor Place Theatre today. The company, based out of New York, has extensive production facilities, recording studios and a 6,000 sq ft research-and-development laboratory.

In the shows, the Blue Men often display an almost child-like sense of innocence and naivety, while possessing a higher level of intelligence than humans.

Music is an important part of the show. Besides the drumming, the Blue Men are accompanied by a four- piece rock band on stage. In fact, they have gone on a parody rock tour and released five albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy.

The instruments played by the Blue Men are often spectacles themselves - one is a giant instrument made of PVC pipes that sounds like a cross between a drum and a piano.

Stanton used to make these instruments and the props for the show in the early years, using his experience working in his father's hardware shop.

The group has modernised the show to keep up with the times. Often, very real messages are conveyed. The Singapore show, for instance, includes a segment where they play with Gipads (giant iPads) and there are moments offering commentary on society's over- reliance on technology.

Still, the show does not stint on fun. In the Singapore show, for instance, 30 litres of paint will be used. The Blue Men use the paint for various purposes, one of which is to pour it onto the drums to cause it to splatter everywhere when it meets the drumsticks.

Audiences are often made part of the show as well.

The original founders did not think the act would become this huge and last this long.

Stanton says: "For the first few years, we had no idea it would even pay the rent. We were just doing something because we loved it. We took it seriously and worked really hard, though we didn't think we'd ever make a living from it."

He has not donned the bald cap and blue paint actively since 2001 - neither have the other two co-founders - opting to take on a more managerial role and making way for younger performers.

He recounts a pivotal moment for the company around 1994 - when he injured his thumb with a power tool during a show and needed surgery. He had to be replaced for the show - the first time a Blue Man was not being played by one of the founding trio.

Stanton says: "I realised other people could, and should, play the character. The Blue Man isn't Matt, Chris or Phil. He is the Everyman."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Going bananas with Blue Men'. Print Edition | Subscribe