B lue Man Group is coming to New Haven March 14 through 17, and it’s time to assess how ready we are for them. How blue, that is.
One of the founding members of Blue Man Group, Chris Wink, attended Wesleyan University in the early 1980s and apparently already had an inkling of what he wanted to do with his life: paint himself blue and create mesmerizing rhythm/music/comedy/theater concoctions. In 2002, the group collaborated with Connecticut-raised electronic music star Moby on his Area2 tour. The troupe’s first big headlining theater tour, titled The Complex, played the Oakdale in Wallingford in 2003. But it seems this is the first time Blue Man Group has played in New Haven proper.
That’s ironic, since there are few bluer cities than the Elm City. Blue is on all the Yale sports uniforms, insignias, banners and neckties. The Blue State Coffee chain has three locations downtown, on Wall Street, York Street and Congress Avenue. Blue Nile is a fashionable men’s clothing store at 851 Chapel Street. Stella Blues is an active bar and club on Crown Street. The Anchor Bar, right across College street from the Shubert where Blue Man Group will be performing, not only evokes the ocean blue with its Anchor name, its old-school vinyl tabletops are blue, and Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” has been a jukebox staple for decades.
You can get your clothes cleaned at Blue Jay Cleaners on Broadway or at Blue Sky Cleaners on Whalley Avenue, and your nails done at Blue Sky Nail on Amity Road. You can heat your house with Blue Flame Oil, a New Haven company that’s been in business for over 80 years. In January and February of this year, Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville hosted an exhibit called “Blue Matters.”
Performance-wise, Yale Swing & Blues is a fun-loving undergraduate social dancing group based at the university. The folk-pop band Goodnight Blue Moon dazzles club crowds with their eclectic instrumentation (mandolin, banjo, trumpet, cello, guitar). Toad’s Place has proven to be a reliable place to see touring acts such as Blue Öyster Cult and Blue October.
Blues artists abound in town, from Rocky Lawrence (the Robert Johnson-influenced guitarist who holds forth Mondays at Anna Liffey’s) to the jump blues of Cobalt Rhythm Kings and the sultry rhythm & blues of George “Guitar” Baker. One of the best jazz radio broadcasters in the state is the online jazz station Blue Plate Radio. In the world of stand-up comedy, “blue” means saucy comments and spicy language, which is what you often get at the Joker’s Wild comedy club on Wooster Street.
The popular video game series Borderlands takes place on another planet than Earth, three millennia from now, but it nonetheless involves a city named New Haven. Hardcore players were overjoyed to find a “hidden basement” in one of its futuristic New Haven tenements. This secret area is accessed by entering a mysterious blue hut.
The area’s gone blue in some unusual places. The University of New Haven football field installed blue turf in 2009, becoming only the second college in the nation to have a non-green field. The building-renovation frenzy at Yale and in New Haven in general has turned the city into a shifting Christo-style public art installation. In recent months, everything from the Yale Repertory Theatre to the YMCA building to the city courthouse (pictured above) has been covered in a brilliant blue protective wrapping.
Politically speaking, New Haven is an extremely blue city in a very blue state. The mayor and every member of the Board of Aldermen are Democrats. The city is known for its progressive solutions to pressing social problems, such as the city-sponsored immigrant-friendly New Haven ID cards and recent sweeping school reforms.
The city also has another, very different “blue” legacy. Founded by Puritans, New Haven was in the thrall of such moralists and their repressive “Blue Laws” until well into the 20th century. One of the last vestiges of the Blue Laws—nixing liquor sales on Sundays—fell just last year with the passage of new state legislation allowing package stores to stay open on the Christian Sabbath day.
Now, on to Blue Man Group. What’s so blue about them anyway? Well, mostly their skin. Blue Man Group shows combine music and theater routines with a sort of calm alien curiosity about how the world works. They work with pipes, paints, drums and confused looks.
Blue Man Groups are groups of three blue men at a time. They’re bald, blue, and earless. Chris Wink and the other two original members, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton, were the whole ensemble for several years, but as their popularity grew, other blue men were enlisted for tours, the standing companies in several U.S. cities, and other opportunities. Currently there are Blue Man Groups in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, in Germany, at sea on Norwegian Cruise Lines, and on tour.
Including a four-night stand at the Blubert—excuse us, make that the Shubert—in Blue, er, New Haven.
Blue Man Group
The Shubert, 247 College Street, New Haven (map)
Thurs 3/14, 7:30pm; Fri 3/15, 8pm; Sat 3/16, 2 & 8pm; Sun 3/17, 1 & 6:30pm
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.