More than two decades since he and his friends created the wild performance art extravaganza known as Blue Man Group, Phil Stanton remains intrigued by at least one mysterious aspect of the show.
“How old is the Blue Man? It’s literally unknown,” he says on the phone from New York in an interview to promote the touring version of the popular production, which opens at the Golden Gate Theatre on Tuesday.
Stanton, 51, and co-creators Chris Wink and Matt Goldman don’t often perform as the Blue Man Group these days, but are instrumental in keeping it fresh as it takes on new forms. While still playing to audiences in its intimate off-Broadway home at the Astor Place Theater, it also has morphed into something that, thanks to new technology, can play to larger crowds in bigger venues across the country and world.
“The show has to change to stay the same,” Stanton says. While the statement sounds like a paradox, it aptly describes the amalgamation of crazy sights, sounds and ideas that comprise the Blue Man Group.
The Blue Man’s timeless, more primal activities, such as drumming and painting, always will be in the show, Stanton says, yet parts about current trends are crucial. For example, a giant cell phone and reading pad device are the technological wonders that anchor the latest production.
Science was important to the trio when they came up with the Blue Man character.
“We all had a love of building things, a love of continued education, of keeping up with technology, and of music. We also just tried to entertain ourselves,” Stanton says.
Back in 1991, thinking they would only appeal to the performance art crowd in New York, they initially were surprised when people of all ages and backgrounds enjoyed the show.
But now, they better understand the universality of the Blue Man, who is a representation of humanity, a kind of Everyman whose message often transcends language and culture.
But sometimes it doesn’t, as the case when the guys feast on Cap’n Crunch and Twinkies, which thrills Americans, yet leaves others cold.
“Here, you put a frame around it, and it does the work for you,” says Stanton, admitting that empty-calorie snack food isn’t funny in the same way in U.S. and Japan.
Some of the other ideas they tried — like strapping sprinklers to their chests or doing something new with marshmallows — also haven’t worked.
A breathtaking participatory part of the show in New York involving paper streamers running through the audience has been retired for the tour, at least in part due to ecological concerns.
“We never thought we’d be able to replace it, but we found a way,” says Stanton, describing the childlike sense of wonder it inspires.
And even though the Blue Man Group’s material never has specifically been written for children, Stanton is proud to describe it as “form-breaking” entertainment for families.
IF YOU GO
Blue Man Group
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 19
Tickets: $30 to $99
Contact: (888) 746 1799; shnsf.com/shows/bluemangroup