BWW Interviews: The Music Man Behind the Blue Man Group - Jesse Nolan
BLUE MAN GROUP. The name alone sparks curiousity, but for anyone that is familiar with the group knows it also sparks a world of imagination, creativity, and a memory that will stick with you forever. For years, BLUE MAN GROUP has been providing viewers with a show that is innovative, energetic and exciting by combining music, technology, comedy and various multimedia.
Sure, as I child I remember being more afraid of the "Blue Man" that might sneak out of my closet at night, but that was before I saw the show. Fast-forward, and I've seen the show six times now. BLUE MAN GROUP is not a show that is easily explained, the best advice I can give is to go see it.
BroadwayWorld caught up with music director, Jesse Nolan, to talk Blue Man Group, preshow rituals and Twin City plans.
BWW: How long have you been working with Blue Man Group?
Jesse Nolan, Music Director:
Short answer: Three years!
Long answer: My love affair with Blue Man group goes back to when I first saw the show as a young kid in NYC with a theatre-loving aunt who also bought me my first drum set at the age of After seeing the original "Tubes" show at the Astor Place Theatre in New York, I made it a point to someday at least audition for the company. Three years ago, I auditioned and began playing drums part time in the Chicago show. A year later I joined the cast of the show aboard the Norwegian Epic as Resident Music Director and drummer and now am privileged to continue the same job with the North American Touring cast.
BWW: How does touring with a show like this differ from a more "traditional" show?
Jesse Nolan: From the musical perspective, everything about touring with Blue Man Group differs from touring with a traditional musical. Because of the heavy interaction between the Blue Men and the audience, every show has a unique energy and different pace. Unlike a traditional musical where the majority of the music is pre-set and the conductor is controlling the tempo, pace, cues, etc., all of the performers (Blue Men and band) have a unique role is shaping these elements. For example, much of the cueing in the show is initiated by the drum set player as he reacts to the story unfolding on stage. Additionally, the band plays a visible role in the show, wearing ultra-violet costumes and face paint and perched high above the Blue Men in "lofts." This gives the band a character to play in the show as well, which is different than traditional shows with a pit orchestra.
BWW: What are the major challenges you face with this show?
JN: Musically our greatest challenge is keeping the show fresh every single evening. The band must have both discipline and intuition to perform the music to a very high standard while also staying aware of the story on stage and reacting in the moment to new information. In my opinion this challenge is also the show's greatest aesthetic feature and one of the reasons audiences keep coming back for more.
BWW: What is your favorite piece of the show?
JN: My favorite piece in the show is "Gumballs and Marshmallows," which is a staple piece in the Blue Man Group repertoire. I single out this piece because of the intense direct relationship between the music and the story unfolding onstage with the Blue Men. I like to call what the band does in this piece "Painting with Sound." Our job is to create the sonic environment in which the Blue Men exist. We also "speak" for the Blue Men through our music by creating the sounds that exist in the Blue Man world.
BWW: Do you think Blue Man Group will stand the test of time? Why or why not?
JN: In terms of the theatrical world, I feel like Blue Man Group has already withstood this test. I believe that any traditional theater company would be thrilled to have one show running for over 20 years in New York City, let alone 8 shows running all over the world. However, I really believe that the character of the Blue Man is what shines through all of the glitz and glamour of a highly technical touring production and that the character is what will stand the test of time.
BWW: What do you think keeps audiences coming back to see the show again and again?
JN: Personally, I believe that audiences keep coming back for more because of the character of the Blue Man. Audiences identify with this character, they want to learn about him, and he wants to learn about them. Because the audience becomes the fourth Blue Man during our show, each show is unique to that particular crowd. !
BWW: If you weren't a music director or music educator, what would you be doing?
JN: I've always been a drummer (since I was 2), and an educator, so I'm not sure I'd be able to survive without these two passions. I do know that I would spend all of my time enjoying the company of my wife.
BWW: Have you been to Minnesota before?
JN: Yes, I've been to Minnesota (and specifically the Twin Cities) many times before with other tours and bands over the course of my career and on vacation.
BWW: What are your plans while you're in the Twin Cities?
JN: My uber-supportive and amazing wife Amy is visiting me this week in the Twin Cities. We have a number of close friends that live in the area and will spend our free time visiting them.
BWW: Do you have any pre show rituals?
JN: Before the show the band and Blue Men enjoy our time in the dressing room, laughing, talking, listening to music and preparing for the show. It's this communal vibe that encompasses much of what Blue Man Group is as a company that gets us excited and energized and allows us to come together as a cast to give the audience the best experience possible each and every night.
BWW: Final thoughts, we didn't cover?
JN: I feel lucky to have a job that give me the privilege of doing what I am passionate about each and every day (playing music and teaching). My advice to students is to follow your passion because passion and good relationships are the foundation for success.
BLUE MAN GROUP plays now through May 4th at The Ordway, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul, 651.224.4222, ordway.org.
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik