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Blue Man Group embraces change at Universal Orlando

Dewayne Bevil on Attractions

Theme Park Ranger

8:43 AM EST, February 23, 2012

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Taking a cue from the ever-changing, ever-updating world of technology, the Blue Man Group show at Universal Orlando has been rebooted.

New and old are mixed in the production, which still features three curious, silent performers with blue "skin" in music and comedy skits.

The revamped show, which officially opens tonight, retains the "primal" elements such as the drums-and-paint segment, says Phil Stanton, one of the co-founders of Blue Man Group.

"For one thing, they don't go out of date," Stanton says. "And the other thing is they're kind of an important contrast to all of material that's more about technology and how we live right now in 2012."

One of the ways the show presents a snapshot of today, Stanton says, is through the onstage use of "Gi-Pads," smartphones that are about 9 feet tall.

"The Blue Man interacts with them in interesting ways," Stanton says. The Gi-Pads "come together and form one screen, and that becomes, through a camera, a way to see backstage at times. But really there is opportunity for us to kind of poke fun at ourselves."

When three of the ginormous devices are featured, one displays "Lit Twits." Another urges the user to blog and tweet about what was just read, you know, immediately. And the third one shares data demonstrating how all these connections make us disconnected.

Other apps on the Gi-Pads highlight Internet-based diversions such as vacuum-riding cats and singing alpacas, which are quite curious to the blue guys.

The new material has been in development for about 18 months, Stanton says. Some of it has been used in a current Blue Man touring show, but there's no formal test-audience method, he says.

"We have a version, then we tweak that version, and soon it becomes a different version altogether," he says. "We put things in front of people and see how they respond."

It will be interesting to see how folks react to the new finale. Gone is the frantic, theater-wide curtain of paper that was pulled from the back of the house, across the top of audience members' heads and piled up at the foot of the stage.

"We thought we could never sort of top that, but we've taken a side step and provided probably an even better ending to the show with these lighted helium balls," Stanton says. The new version does include a paper-driven effect, but it has less waste.

"Our sense of environmental conscience wouldn't let us keep doing paper like that, even though it was recycled," Stanton says.

The big balls are batted about by audience members to music that urges folks to stand and shake their booty. Stanton calls it a "shared euphoric experience."

The Blue Man Group's venue at Universal CityWalk was closed for a few weeks to remodel the stage, now dominated by LED lighting to supplement the antics of the performers. It brings versatility — and anxiety.

"Theater technology these days is all interconnected. So if one thing goes, everything goes," Stanton says. "There's a lot of improvisational quality to the show, but that adds another little "Uuuhhhh, what's going to happen?'"

Blue Man moved into Universal Orlando in 2007, but Stanton expects another update. Blue Man 3.0, anyone?

"We'll wait for that technology where the cellphone is actually in your head," he jokes.

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

Blue Man Group

When: One or two shows nightly (times vary).

Where: Sharp Aquos Theatre, Universal CityWalk, intersection of Interstate 4 and Kirkman Road, Orlando

Admission: $74-$84 general, $25 for ages 9 and younger

Phone: 407-224-7328

Online: UniversalOrlando.com/blueman

How to be blue, man

Where does Blue Man Group find performers for its shows at CityWalk and around the world? Here's what co-founder Phil Stanton says:

"We find them in various ways. We do traditional casting methods, but then there's also occasionally a drummer or band member that just happens to have a great stage presence and can intuitively act.

"A lot of times, it's word of mouth. Friends have another actor friend who wants to audition. We find if people have a sense of rhythm, they can learn to drum. We can teach that. We have drum schools.

"But there's an intangible that you can't really know until you get them all in blue, so to speak. But it's some kind of ability to just be kind of truthful and honest in public. That's what you can't teach."