ORLANDO — Text messages and tablet computers have grown influential enough for Blue Man Group satire.
"These devices have changed our culture so much that we hope to frame questions that help people laugh at themselves," said Phil Stanton, co-founder of the messy, blue-headed performance art company that stars giant wireless gadgetry in a new staging of Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando's CityWalk.
Universal and Stanton's production company poured upward of $5 million into new music, staging and high-resolution special effects for the 90-minute show, which premieres Feb. 24 but quietly reopened for final dress rehearsals this week. The investment signals a five-year extension of Blue Man Group's partnership with the theme park.
About half the bits that made Blue Man famous remain intact in a show set to pounding industrial rock played on one-of-a-kind percussion instruments fashioned from PVC pipe and foam paddles.
The Blue Men still catch flying marshmallows in their mouths. They appear to drop a tiny camera down an audience member's throat to televise the inside of his stomach. They splatter colorful food dye poured on their drum heads.
The new additions feature the Blue Men coping with another round of new technology: the sensory overload of multitasking; banal TV commercials touting needless advances like a 10-blade shaving razor; the social isolation text messaging spawns.
"We're trying to get between people and their electronic devices," said Anthony Parrulli, a 36 year-old Countryside High School graduate who is one of about 60 mime-like Blue Men currently playing the role globally. "But our characters don't change. We still stare a lot at the audience and each other."
Producers also juiced up the traditional dance party finish when the cast TP's the audience by unraveling huge rolls of tissue paper. As the paper flies, nine 7-foot glowing beach balls fall from the rafters.
Like Cirque du Soleil at Walt Disney World, the show is in an entertainment district just outside the theme park gates but on the property. That means a separate admission, which Blue Man recently bumped up $5 to $89 for people 10 and older, $29 for kids 3 to 9.
After debuting as Tubes in 1987 at Lincoln Center in New York, Blue Man Group became an off-Broadway hit and is now in its 22nd year. There are also eight productions in three countries, plus a touring company.
Expansion to Brazil and resort cities in Asia is on the agenda. An album — a "cultural mashup" of the shows from various countries — also is in the works. A new Las Vegas staging is being created for a move from the Venetian Resort to the Monte Carlo on Nov. 15. It will feature industrial robots that Blue Men teach to play drums.
"We tweak our shows all the time, but in Orlando the culture shifted so much in five years we wanted to stay relevant," he said. "We won't need to again until cellphones are embedded in our heads. That may not be long."
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Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.