PLEASE MAKE IT STOMP
When I first saw the Blue Man Group at the Astor Place Theatre in 1991, it was performance art nirvana. Sadly, what started as a sweet and satisfying event became a corporate machine; the size of the show in its newer behemoth incarnations (Vegas, Chicago, et al) has robbed it of its innocence and heart. Not so with Stomp, which I originally saw at New York’s 299-seat Orpheum Theatre in 1994. As part of its national tour, the movement piece, which has eight performers using their bodies and both industrial and household objects as percussive musical instruments, opened at the 1897-seat Saban Theater last Wednesday; it still retains the original flair and comedy that makes the smaller NY production (which is still running) so enjoyable.
Dressed in a look best-described as B-Boy meets construction worker, each member of the multi-cultural, funky-haired cast has the kind of specific personality you would find at an elementary school playground: The nerd, the tough guy and the class clown are playfully competitive in a tribal, ritualistic way as they non-verbally communicate with each other and the audience. As with Blue Man, the gang comes off like talented, needy children who thrive on attention—and they’ll do anything to get it.
The indefatigable, rhythmic, syncopated cast makes this well-oiled machine appear improvisational, but whether it’s sight gags or stick combat, their timing is impeccable. They create music from a gallimaufry of items: sand, matchbooks, their own bodies, dustpans, trash cans, ladles, rubber gloves, metallic sinks, stiff-bristle brooms, supermarket carts, corrugated plastic tubing played like accordions, and PVC pipes cut at many lengths for different tones. My favorite was the clever use of Zippo lighters: Not only did they make a catchy sound, but they reminded me of the syncopated fireflies I saw on a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.
I assume that creator/directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas are responsible for the two-tiered set, a beautiful mosaic of anything that can be banged, that perfectly fits this venue. Most impressive in this tour are the gorgeously subtle, ever-changing lights (by Neil Tiplady and McNicholas) and the uncredited sound design. I’ll praise Artur Janota (“Production Sound”) for ensuring that the spectacular clickety-clacking and pounding never becomes too loud or abrasive.
The very nature of this crowd-pleaser does make it somewhat wearying, and the encore, which should have us jumping from our seats–or feeling something emotional for that matter–almost makes the show overstay its welcome. Still, the kids attending the show were rapt, vocal and at times positively giddy. Stomp may well instill in them a sense of creativity, competition and fair play—but I would recommend stashing your easily breakable items when you get home.
North American Tour at the Saban Theatre
8440 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills
scheduled to end on December 29, 2013
for tickets, call 877-598-8497
or visit www.ticketmaster.com
for more info and tour dates,