John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

The Kats Report: Blue Man Group comes full circle—to its original Luxor home

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Blue Man Group returns to the Luxor on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, on the Las Vegas Strip.
Photo: Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

The glistening paint never fades from Blue Man Group. The forever muted, three-man troupe of performance artists never feels old or trite or otherwise dulled. The Blue Men have headlined on the Strip for more than 15 years, a seamlessly successful run covering four venues in three hotels. In the face of heavy competition for ticket sales all over the city, how do they remain fresh?

Blue Man Group co-founder Chris Wink mulls that question. He’s standing at the front of the stage at Luxor’s Blue Man Group Theater, a new haunt for the act, while flanked by co-founder Phil Stanton and MGM Resorts Entertainment and Sports President Richard Sturm. “One thing we don’t do is dilute,” Wink says after a pause. “We don’t think, ‘Let’s come up with a second show,’ and take half the pieces out and fill it up somehow. We are concentrated on this show, and it’s our flagship show.”

Stanton times his answer just as Wink clips off his own. “We just keep making this work,” he says. “We keep evolving, we keep making this work, so we can be better each time.”

The tacit and frequent comparison is with Cirque du Soleil, for their precision performance art and language-exclusive stage production. Cirque, of course, dominates the Strip in pure numbers with its eight shows. The balance of those shows has opened since BMG premiered at Luxor in early 2000.

“But you can clearly see a difference in strategy,” Wink says.” There are eight Cirque shows. There’s one Blue Man Group … This show represents all eight shows, all in one. It’s the best of everything.”

Blue Man Group has tweaked, updated and fully overhauled its show many times over the years, often because of its occasional theater relocations. The show enjoyed laudatory reviews, strong business and a cozy business partnership in its first run at Luxor, which spanned 2000-2005 in the theater now home to Criss Angel.

Just as BMG was completing its original five-year contract with Luxor owner Mandalay Resort Group, the hotel was sold to MGM Mirage—and then-incoming Luxor President Felix Rappaport said at the time that he would have loved to keep the Blue Men in that theater. Instead, the musical Hairspray moved in for an ill-fated, 15-week run. BMG moved to the Venetian, spending seven years there and another three at Monte Carlo before returning to a place the founders say they should never have left.

“We weren’t necessarily trying to leave the Luxor. You sign these five-year deals, but you never know,” Wink says.

When Blue Man Group moved to Monte Carlo in 2012, a BMG-themed walkway, theater entrance and gift shop were constructed. But the resort’s refined, European vibe and décor didn’t blend well with BMG’s aggressive, technically innovative and oftentimes vaudevillian attitude. “Monte Carlo and Blue Man just sort of sounds random, which it sort of was,” Wink says. “We were kind of living [in] our own little portal there.”

Blue Man Group once more adjusted to fit the needs of a new venue this spring. That’s when MGM Resorts abruptly informed the show it would need to move from Monte Carlo, and its 1,200 seats, to the 830-seat venue across from Atrium Showroom (home to Carrot Top and Fantasy). The former Lance Burton Theatre is being taken apart for the Monte Carlo’s new 5,000-seat theater.

The ripple effect sent Blue Man Group back to Luxor, and Jabbawockeez—the tenant of the Luxor venue now inhabited by BMG—to the former Beacher’s Madhouse venue at MGM Grand.

Under all that paint, the Blue Men are smiling at their fate. The Luxor’s pointed visage is among the more recognizable hotel brands anywhere, and the new theater is actually more energized than were the Monte Carlo or Venetian venues. Similar to how the Jabbawockeez move to MGM Grand was a return to that dance troupe’s roots, the Blue Men are playing to the type of leaner audiences that turn out for their shows in other cities.

“It has never been a shoo-in for us to be in a cavernous sort of space,” Stanton says. “It’s always a little hard for us to work with. We always try to work with the space. We fill it however we can, with balls or video … sometimes we come up with good ideas.”

The close proximity of human bodies feeds the troupe’s own energy. The front row almost abuts the lip of the stage, which itself is just about three feet off the ground. “The thing that is so important about this space you have here, is the ability to hear someone laugh,” Stanton says. “The response—that’s a few rows away. Often in these large spaces, and they are awesome theaters, you can’t hear that.”

No such problem exists at Luxor, where plastic is already being provided to those who sit up close in the event that banana and Twinkie goo sprays from the stage. The “rake” is lower, the Blue Men are close, the sound is crisper and—as always—a line of toilet-paper rolls is positioned behind the audience, ready to blanket it at the show’s finale.

The collective result serves as a message: The Blue Men are back. They are inventive as ever, and they own this place.

Blue Man Group Nightly, times vary, $76-$136. Luxor, 702-262-4000.

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