Phil Stanton came to New York nearly 30 years ago as "a serious kind of actor-type."
"I was really smarmy," Stanton says now. "I didn't want to do any commercials, didn't want to do any soap operas the agents always wanted you to do. I thought I should make money, but I didn't want to do just anything for it."
He, and a pair of kindred spirits, found his answer with some blue paint, PVC piping and a wicked -- some would say warped -- imagination.
During the late 80s, Stanton, 54, co-founded Blue Man Group with friends Matt Goldman and Chris Wink. Donning blue paint, not saying a word and expressing emotion only with their eyes, the trio captivated people on the Manhattan streets with performance art "disturbances" before turning it into a show at the Astor Place Theatre.
Since then Blue Man Group has grown into a nearly 400-person organization that has continuing permanent theater shows in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fla., Berlin and on the Norwegian Cruise Line, and a larger-scale standing production in Las Vegas. Blue Man Group has also released Grammy Award-nominated albums, made TV commercials, been part of Moby's short-lived Area festival and toured amphiteathers and arenas on its own.
And, yes, there's an app for that, too.
"Something was different about Blue Man," Stanton says now. "I didn't have any expectation I'd make any money at all. It was just a passion and a fun thing. I'm not sure if it's ironic or not but it is strange that it became my serious pursuit, yet I never thought I would make a living at it."
The key to Blue Man Group is that it works on multiple levels. Conceptually, Wink notes, "we just want to be gentle, faceless squires in the land of pop," commenting on cultural cliches. But there are plenty of hijinks and humor, stunts and oddball gags as well as music-making with invented instruments on which they play their own compositions as well as covers of songs such as Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbits."
But, Goldman notes, "We're performance artists first and rockers second. Lighting is more our medium than music, so our attitude is make an irresistible show and they will come."
The key for Stanton, Wink and Goldman -- who haven't toured as Blue Men in years and only don the paint now for occasional, special occasions while they direct their empire -- is keeping the show current. The current Blue Man productions address cellular technology and social media, letting their characters interact with constant connectivity on levels that are both absurd and relatable.
"It's a humorous way of saying we're becoming one with these devices we hold in our hands," Stanton explains. "We have pieces that are like giant iPhones, and the Blue Men interact with them. They have abilities we haven't realized; that's where a lot of the humor and satire comes from."
There will be more to come from Blue Man Group in the future, Stanton promises. He, Goldman and Wink have "another set of characters were working on," though he adds that's "not something I can talk about in more detail than to say that." And there are "a lot of irons in the fire" for additional applications of the existing Blue Man concept.
"It's a very fertile time for us, the most active period we've ever had in our existence," Stanton says. "We don't plan on letting up, either. We feel like this is just the beginning of a new kind of era for us, which is very exciting to say after all these years."
Blue Man Group
Tuesday-Sunday, April 21-26.
Fisher Theatre in the Fisher Building, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.
Tickets are $39-$110.
Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.broadwayindetroit.com for showtimes and ticket details.
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