Blue Man Group ready to color Everett

  • By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
  • Thursday, January 24, 2008 2:41pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Before he started painting himself blue for a living, Zach Buell was a typical struggling actor, living in New York City, producing his own material, working off-off-Broadway.

He hadn’t seen the Blue Man Group perform, but he fit the job requirements: He stood between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 1 inch, had an athletic build, could act, and had drumming experience from high school band.

Now three years into his career as a Blue Man, Buell plans to hit Everett tonight as the group brings its frothy blend of rock music and paint, “How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1,” to Comcast Arena at Everett Events Center.

Buell, speaking from his home base in Chicago, said the show pays homage to arena rock of past decades.

“The big bombastic light shows, you know, Queen and Kiss and Zeppelin, bands like that,” Buell said. “But at the same time, we are poking fun at rock stars and pop idols and culture.”

The 2.1 show is not light years apart from version 2.0, which sold out its Everett date in 2007. There’s a new song, “Rock and Go,” while another song, “Exhibit 13,” has been retired.

“People who have seen the 2.0 version, it’s 80 percent the same, but they would be in for some different things, some new surprises here and there,” Buell said.

Describing those surprises might be tough, but then, describing any Blue Man Group show is difficult; The Los Angeles Times settled on calling one “a postmodern vaudeville routine.”

The act sprung from the minds of Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink in the 1980s. The friends drew attention with public displays: holding a funeral for the 1980s in Central Park two years before the decade’s end, setting up a fake dance club without music outside a popular nightspot.

The trio launched a stage show in 1991, settling on a few constant elements. Three blue men, with bald and shiny blue heads, would toy with ideas both highminded, like the way information flows in a modern age, and borderline infantile, like how hitting a paint-covered drum looks cool.

The show took off, spawning residencies in places like Tokyo, Las Vegas and Berlin. It also gave the Blue Man Group celebrity cachet, leading to Intel TV commercials and cameos on the sitcom “Arrested Development.”

Endorsements and arena tours may have heightened expectations and led to some minor backlash for the group. In an otherwise positive 2005 theater review, for example, the New York Times called the group’s newer rock and roll material “somewhat stale.”

Still, for the uninitiated, Blue Man Group is likely to feel fresh.

Some elements of the arena show call for audience participation, another tool in the Blue Man utility belt, and change subtly on a nightly basis. For instance, at one point, the Blue Men, who never speak, have to convince an audience member to give them a credit card.

“We don’t use a plant,” Buell, 34, said. “We go out there and have to figure out how to get an audience member to (let us) borrow one of their credit cards. We have to figure that out every night.”

Buell likes those challenges, and also enjoys exploring different motivations for his character. He hesitates to settle on a definite back story for the Blue Man, instead relating an idea the group uses in auditions: Actors are told to imagine the Blue Men belong to a culture that lives on one side of a mountain, with ours on the other.

“One day, a team of three daring Blue Men decided to, for whatever reason, venture there and visit this other culture that they’ve only heard snippets about,” Buell said. “And then, when they’re there, they’re just trying to do it right, get things right. They don’t know what’s sacred, what’s frivolous.”

Speaking of unknowns, being a Blue Man comes with an odd sort of fame. While Buell plays to packed arenas — the last Everett show drew more than 8,000 people — once his makeup comes off, he can slip back into an ordinary and anonymous life.

He said that at parties, people sometimes are surprised to find out about his job.

“They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you?’ ” Buell said. “There’s that duality. They’re meeting Clark Kent and finding out he’s Superman.”

Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail

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