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'Blue Man Group' captivates with comedy, music, lights

Crazy good percussion. A palpable sense of anticipation. A light show packed with spinning double helixes and optical illusions. A game of toss with marshmallows and gumballs.

These are a few of the devices “Blue Man Group” uses to leave an audience packed with teenagers, grandparents and 5-year-olds hollering for more.

The first thing to know is that those seated in the front rows of Belk Theater are cloaked in plastic rain gear. Accept that there’s a visceral element to the show.

Second, embrace the beat. Percussion provides the pulse of “Blue Man Group,” and is delivered with untraditional aplomb. It sets the mood, and provides visual and audio stimulation.

Audience participation is solicited before the show, so by the time the performers hit the stage the house is involved and excited. The result on opening night Tuesday was festive expectation, and a refreshing sense of intimacy among strangers.

The content is a twist on an old-fashioned variety show.

The house band plays inside two elevated boxes. Silent skits are interspersed with musical numbers that illustrate the innovative thinking behind this production. The Blue Men pound on a big drum with a huge soft mallet.

They play a complicated concoction that might be made of PVC piping. One instrument made of flexible piping is practically worn by the performers. It looks like a cross between a chairlift and a bagpipe.

The exuberant music is enhanced by Joel Moritz’s lighting design, which infuses the show with visual excitement. Light is thrown toward the audience like comets through space. Background effects change from fluorescent pinks and purples to off-white, and back into vibrant Technicolor.

Patricia Murphy designed the Blue Man Character costume. The black shirt, pants and boots offset the royal blue heads. The players look like mutant humans. They are like us, but different. They never smile, which makes them really funny.

While visually and audibly arresting, “Blue Man Group” is just as engaging on the intellectual front. They gently mock social media and modern advertising. The show is thick with cultural references, which range from Twinkies to Andrew Wyeth. There’s an entertaining bit on the science of light, and a debate about the concept of dimension.

“Blue Man Group” is part concert, part social satire and a whole lot of fun.

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