Blue Man Group "Would you like to come hear us announce the new face of entertainment in Orlando?" chirped the Universal PR flack on my phone. "Oh, you mean the Blue Man Group going into the old Nickelodeon building?" (Crickets.) "Well, I can't tell you that …"

When your super-secret new business venture is being talked about on podcasts for weeks, it's not a surprise anymore. Even if they leak like a sieve, though, they put on a good show; so last Thursday morning I found myself wedged into a bleacher seat in Universal Studio's Soundstage 33.

A couple dozen TV and radio reporters —and the odd fan-site web journalist — sat surrounded by a sea of chattering children bused in from local schools. The big reveal came in the form of a short video featuring the Blue Man Group (BMG) wreaking havoc in the theme parks. Maybe I was just hopped up on the free coffee, but watching cerulean mimes feed pepperoni pizza to an animatronic shark is comedy gold. I hope this clip finds a place in the show (or at least on YouTube).

With a dramatic lighting flourish, the Blue Men took the stage and launched into an energetic "greatest hits" condensation of their act. For those unfamiliar with the BMG, the trio of bright-blue baldies (backed by a clutch of instrumentalists) executes a surreal blend of percussion-heavy music and performance art. Their routines involve precision drumming on PVC pipes, lobbing of gumballs and marshmallows into each other's mouths, and splattering paint. It's a real delight to watch, particularly for first-timers, and the pre-adolescent audience was vocally appreciative.

When the applause died down, Matt Goldman and Chris Wink, co-founders of BMG, joined the performers onstage. (They're middle-aged family men now, and they farm out the actual performing to the 60-odd Blue Men around the world.) The jaw-dropper of the morning came when a beaming Buddy Dyer bounded up to present the Blue Men with a key to the city. Declaring that he wanted to join the show, he was asked if he could play the drums. Our mayor's reply: "No, but I can catch balls in my mouth."

There was a sad irony in listening to Universal head honcho Tom Williams extol BMG as "leading-edge" and "hip." Goldman talked about their origins in the late '80s, an artist's absurdist reaction to the culture clash of punks and stockbrokers on the sidewalks of Manhattan. To go from the galleries of the East Village to CityWalk (with a stopover on Intel commercials and Arrested Development along the way) must be trippier than anything in their shows. Their sensibility, in its current mainstreamed state, is a good fit for Universal, just as Cirque du Soleil complements Disney.

It will take more than optimistic words about "growing the market" to sustain a show in this town that doesn't involve unlimited Bud and horses. There's no question that Universal has a first-class product in BMG, but can Orlando's market demographics support a permanent Vegas-style theater? Ben Hur tried to do just that and failed, and while La Nouba proved the concept's viability, they have a deep well of Disney's hotel guests to draw from. Even with combination theme-park-and-show tickets, tourists alone aren't going to keep the lights on; in order to fill the planned daily matinee and evening shows, they are going to need to aggressively market to both the convention and local markets. Universal would be well-positioned to benefit from the convention center's expansion if not for the transportation nightmare that is I-Drive. As for the locals, a projected starting ticket price of $45 to $55 dollars (about one-half of what La Nouba costs) is an encouraging start.

With Disney underway on new attractions for their parks and rumored development along their recently completed Western Beltway, Universal has some serious challenges ahead of it. It remains to be seen if corporate parent General Electric has the stomach for it in the long haul. The real winners may be the actors and stagehands of Orlando. Between the excellent new Finding Nemo musical at Animal Kingdom and BMG's future plans to recruit locally, the parks will employ more local talent than will ever see the stages at the proposed Orlando Performing Arts Center.

— Seth Kubersky

The Best of Smash Hits: The '80s (Sphere/Little, Brown Book Group)

"Uncle Disgusting (n): any hideously old (i.e., on the wrong side of 24) and wrinkly ‘lothario,' often seen sporting a pair of pervetrousers and with a foxstress or three in tow. As in, ‘Have you seen Tom "bloody" Jones' new breeks? What an uncle disgusting!' See also: Rod Stewart." `A quote from page 25's "Utterly Swingorilliant Dictionary.`

Such was the idiomatic genius of Smash Hits, the teen Brit-bible for '80s teens more inclined to smoke cloves with Sigue Sigue Sputnik and drink tea with Morrissey than twist their hair at anything resembling a Ralph Macchio. Those of us trapped in the American wasteland drooled at the wit and possibility of another life altogether (or Duran Duran) through its mildly distilled domestic sister, Star Hits, which mostly reprinted the British originals with a dash of Corey Hart here and there.

The Best of Smash Hits compiles some of the best pieces through the decade that never ended (Smash Hits itself went under this year in the U.K.) and presents them in a deluxe hardcover compendium — pinups, letters and all. As a result, readers are invited to relive the painstaking detail to which the merry pranksters of the editorial staff assigned themselves in dealing with the pressing questions of the time: For example, "If you were married to Freddy Mercury, would you let him keep the mustache?" All of it long before the term "media training" meant more than some bleach and a line. I mean, really, Wayne Hussey (Mission U.K.), what color is January? Spectacular. ( and

— Billy Manes


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