I’ve lived in Orlando for seven years now, but haven’t found time to visit Blue Man Group at Universal’s CityWalk. That changed this past weekend (disclosure: my family and I did not pay for our tickets). I’ve always assumed this show would be of interest to my older child (currently 8 years old) who has long loved loud and banging noises, and Blue Man Group looked, from the promos, to be about drums and colored water effects. It seemed a perfect match for us. As it turned out, it was, though not always in ways we anticipated.
The theater sits just to the side of Universal Studios Florida, nestled almost behind the world’s largest Hard Rock Café. By this way, this same transition zone is home to a neglected actual piece of the Berlin Wall. I need to do a story someday on this amazing piece of history, rotting away in the Florida humidity.
Apparently some 75% of the audience at each Blue Man show is comprised of folks who came from the theme parks that day, and want a way to cap the experience. That means the dress code will be extremely casual – no need to gussie up for this show!
On our visit (7pm on a Friday), the entire complex was crawling with people. A few were heading to Blue Man, as we were. Many were streaming out of the parks, which had closed somewhat early. A majority, though, were making a beeline for Universal Studios, where the Halloween Horror Nights private party beckoned. We could not believe the volume of folks this attracted. Even the lines had lines.
At Blue Man, we were ushered into the theater quickly and saw at the first glance that the seating in the theater is smaller than I expected. It’s smaller than the La Nouba Cirque du Soleil show at Downtown Disney. But I wouldn’t want to compare those two shows too much, though. That would be like comparing apples with Russian cosmonauts. They do completely different things.
At its heart. Blue Man is primarily a comedy sketch… done without any words. I was impressed with how much they were able to communicate by situation and facial expression alone. The show lasted about 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The promotions and advertisements don’t really play up the comedy. That stands to reason; comedy is hard to capture visually in a print ad. Instead, they play up the explosion of color that ensues when you beat a drum covered with dyed water (or rather, when three people are doing it next to each other, each with their own color). Does the water get everywhere? Even my eight year old noticed folks in the front row before the show began already cowering under ponchos. He wouldn’t have gotten the reference, but my son was expecting an experience like the comedian Gallagher, who smashes watermelons (and other fruit) onstage.
It turns out there’s actually very little dousing of the audience. The drums are there (they recur about 3 times during the show), and I was pleased to see additional percussion in the “squares” that hung from the ceiling. Those additional musicians wore costumes that glowed, Tron-like but more colorful, in the stage lighting. Neat. The overall effect of “boxed” performance areas reminded me of the Power of BLAST, which played at Disney’s California Adventure in 2001-2002. Blast was itself a highly theatrical version of Star of Indiana-style drum corps.
The emphasis on drums also reminded me of BLAST. Here the two shows were roughly equal to each other; both will touch the hearts of percussion fans (and yet leave you wanting some more of it).
The sketches included a scene where the Blue Men put their heads behind TV screens and used the (pre-recorded) video to add comedy to their physical, live movements. You’ll see mannequins dressed in this fashion at the entrance to CityWalk, too.
Other moments included a cereal-eating contest, complete with outsized crunch noises. They involved the audience on three occasions by selecting hapless “volunteers”: there was a sketch with a woman in the restaurant, three people subjected to inner ear experiments who would “yelp” with pain in musical ways (the sounds were pre-recorded), and a man selected to be dressed up and turned into body art when his painted suit was hurled at a blank canvas. The latter was surely fakery—those painting scenes were done ahead of time by someone dressed similarly. They would never hoist a guest upside down like that!
A visual highlight came when they turned on zoetrope-type animations at the wings of the stage. You may have seen something similar at DCA—when you rotate a table of pre-made figures that take together indicate movement, and then use a strobe light on them at the right frequency, they appear to “dance” to the eye.
But that was nothing compared to the actual finale. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone reading this, so I’m serious when I say you should skip this paragraph (via this jump link) if you want to keep the surprise for your actual visit.
For those who want to know, read on. I had no idea myself of what to expect—I’d read nothing about this show before my visit—so I was taken aback completely.
The Blue Men run up to the back of the theater, where rolls of paper appeared all at once, dangling from the walls. They looked like giant toilet paper rolls. The Blue Men grabbed them, ran toward the front of the theater, and pulled the paper out as they went. Suddenly it made sense. They paper rolls seemingly never ended. The audience had a job to do now; grab the paper stream in front (over) us, and pull forward so more came out. This also explained why the preshow “word scroll” included something about paper being recycled in this show. It lasted way longer than you would think possible.
This was more fun than you’d imagine. At just the right moment, once everyone had the hang of it, they turned out the lights and turned on strobe lights throughout the theater. This was bananas! Every middle school dance party you ever loved came back to life here. These were moments of pure, unadulterated joy—that most rare of emotions in theme park experiences, and the Holy Grail of designers and producers everywhere. They deserve a heartfelt “bravo” for accomplishing this. Even my jaded kids found this to be a highlight, including my activity-addled 8 year old who had wanted the audience to get soaked.
Would I go back? Yes, I will! Tickets are $64 per adult ($25/child), and they are worth it. You’ll find this a very effective end to a day at Universal.
Then there’s this news flash: the current Blue Man show will undergo a transformation in early 2012. The show isn’t leaving, but we can probably anticipate that the show will change. Those of you who have been waiting to see this show should not wait much longer! And those of you who like the show in its current form have one final chance to catch it, before it is altered to a new format. You can also buy tickets online.
Here is the slideshow for this week.
(As a reminder, look below the video for a bullet-point list of what’s talked about. For those of you about to watch the video, don’t peek at the bullet points! They would be “spoilers.”)
New souvenir guide cover at Epcot
The twitter feed is gone from the Epcot info board near the Fountain of Nations
The F&W decorations in Germany’s train set include a tiny cranberry bog!
The wheel at the lagoon in Morocco is broken (and has been?) meaning there is no running water through the trough and into the gardens.
Epcot was insanely busy – about 72,000 in attendance for the day. This is New Year’s Eve levels, folks! Some of it was due to Fall Break; and probably to the first good weather in a while.
At DHS, the Animation building has new signs at the entrance, explaining the sections of the building and showing a map. They’ve also configured the entrance to let you in more easily.
Finally got to see the Pooh meet and greet, which uses video screens on the walls of the queue to give some interactivity to the ‘book’ words written on the walls. A neat effect.
Penguins are STILL broken at MuppetVision, as are the ‘explosion’ projections on the rear panels
Osborne installation almost done (early Nov is the target)
Indy stunt show has refurbished sign out front (same design, just freshened colors)
American Idol Experience gives out the 1,000th Dream Ticket to Sylvia Hercules (singing “I Will Survive”)
There is much Small World merch for sale suddenly, in the Mary Blair style (related to her 100th anniversary?)
Mini Golf at Universal now has vertical construction taking shape
Halloween Spooktacular at SeaWorld is again free (included with admission), with tons of candy given out, even if you’re not dressed up. Adults can also collect candy.
Saw Tillikum in the Shamu Rocks show (where they’ve also fixed the screen that has been broken for some time)
Weekly Walt Disney World
All are welcome to join our Facebook group dedicated to meetups every weekend in Walt Disney World. We announce the weekly destination from that Facebook group. If you’re local, or even if you are willing to take a brief break in your upcoming vacation, plan to hook up with us! Newcomers are very welcome! The meet lasts an hour (always starting Sundays at 2pm), but many folks just hang out the rest of the day, so you are welcome to drift in and out as your schedule allows.
This next Sunday, we will be at Fort Wilderness. We will tour the stables, crane our necks over the fence at the former River Country, and sip a beverage at Crockett’s Tavern. We may even try some of the rentals in the area, like canoes, archery, or bicycling. In the evening, we’ll join the campfire singalong, one of the truly hidden gems at Walt Disney World (locals may want to keep a cooler in the car for this part of the day). We meet at 2pm Sunday outside of Crockett’s Tavern (the bar next to the Trail’s End restaurant in the Settlement). Note that you’ll have to take a bus from Fort Wilderness parking to get to the Settlement, where you will find Crockett’s Tavern. Or you can boat over from the Contemporary Resort if that’s easier.
Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee recieved complementary admission for himself and his family for the Blue Man Group show.
Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:
The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.
History was on my mind as I composed this book. As you might expect, there is a section on additions, another on removals, and a third on events. But I wanted to make sure to include some prices from January 2010 in the book, the better to capture in future years (and future generations?) exactly what it costs to buy admission, parking, a night at each level of hotel, or such food items as a turkey leg. I also wanted to provide a bit more specificity to the unfolding of events, so the various additions and removals, as well as smaller alterations and debuts, are laid out in a timeline broken down month-by-month.
In short, the book is designed to appeal to those folks who are similarly history-minded, as well as those who are hungry to know what changed at Disney World since their last visit. Or perhaps it’s a worthwhile keepsake for anyone who DID visit in 2010—it captures what was new, after all.
Also recently issued...
Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes:
As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.
The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.
The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.
Might this be an ideal present for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.
Also written by Kevin...
Your Day at the Magic Kingdomis a full-color, hardcover interactive children’s book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Memberprovides the
first authentic glimpse of what it’s like to work at Disneyland.
The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their
menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo
Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free
for non-speakers of Japanese.
Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland
park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller
story on this place rich with details.
101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented
book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book,
namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides
101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World
follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages
in the four Disney World parks.
More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.