STOMP (National Tour)
Created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas
Dallas Summer Musicals
Director: Luke Creswell and Steve McNicholas
Lighting Design: Steve McNicholas and Neil Tiplady
U.S. Rehearsal Director: Fiona Wilkes
Production Manager: Robby MacLean
Associate Producer: Fred Bracken
General Manager: Joe Watson
Set Dresser: Stacey-Jo Marine
E. Donisha Brown
Michael R. Landis
Reviewed Performance 6/7/2011
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
t is impossible to come up with any original praise for the theatrical sensation "STOMP". Every superlative in the English language has been used to describe this 2 hour extravaganza of rhythm, music, dancing, movement, mime, comedy, etc. All I can say is that if you have never seen it, you don't know what you are missing. It is a theatrical experience everyone living should have.
STOMP had its origins in Brighton England in 1991 after a decade of collaboration between the two creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. This pair had worked together in a band and in theatre. They presented several works at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Their "dustbin" number became incorporated into a Heineken beer commercial. Later Bette Midler presented their "percussive movie" for her HBO special "Mondo Beyondo." The next few years, Mr. Cresswell created larger concert events with a heavy focus on rhythm. This led to the culmination of the first STOMP which was named "Best of the Fringe" award at the Edinburgh festival. Since then STOMP has become a global sensation and has been seen by millions of people worldwide.
I had the privilege of seeing STOMP during its first North American Tour back in the mid 90's. I couldn't imagine that I would have enjoyed a show with no plot, no dialogue, and the only sound coming from the stage being percussion. How many possible rhythms could I listen to without getting bored? From the moment it started till the thundering end I found myself enthralled. I left the theatre with an adrenaline rush but slight headache as it was LOUD. This said, the slight headache was worth it.
Flash forward 10 years. I saw STOMP again when it toured through Dallas. The show had been slightly retooled. All the musical numbers were there but, whereas the original started softly and grew ever increasingly louder, this retooled version gave the audiences' ears acoustic breaks. There were soft numbers followed by loud ones and vice versa. I still left with an adrenaline rush but no headache. STOMP had been perfected.
Well, it's back in Dallas for only one week. This go around it is being billed as "STOMP with new surprises." I was slightly weary they had attempted to "fix" something that need not have been fixed. I was wrong. They somehow have managed to improve what I thought was perfect.
There are some new musical numbers that I hadn't seen before, others that are tweaked to make them even more complex and dazzling, and the overall athleticism of the show is enhanced.
Overall, the rate of beats per minute has been picked up even in the "slower" numbers. Not that there are any "slow" numbers to begin with but there is an added kinetic frenzy that didn't exist before.
The show is overall the same length. I immediately recognize the new musical numbers since this is the third time I've seen it. Of the previously existing numbers, some are slightly shortened while others have new touches. These edits and additions make STOMP stronger. As far as the new numbers, they are jaw dropping. I am particularly fond of the sequence using enormous tractor trailer inner tubes.
Another change I notice throughout the show is its level of sophistication and profundity. The other versions are mainly all about dazzling the audience or simply making us laugh and smile. There are more subtleties in this presentation. Some of the new rhythms are much more elaborate and their tonalities more discordant. Despair, angst, and anger were never part of the original show, yet this new version has moments of true seriousness and emotional depth. The overall effect feels much more emotionally satisfying.
The set of STOMP looks basically like a trash yard, and every surface is used to create music. The performers don't really have costume changes; they are in basic street clothing. The lighting is used masterfully to create visual pictures, and at times to enhance the rhythms.
The program lists 11 performers though only 8 are onstage. There is no way to properly figure out who is on stage and who of the three must rotate out with the cast I saw. I looked at the headshots in the lobby to try to sort it out but I couldn't since most of the headshots look nothing like any of the performers. Obviously some of those photos are not very recent, or they are so stylized in the pictures that it is impossible to discern who the headshot belongs to.
This said, I can identify two of the performers: Michael Landis (though his headshot identifies him as "Mikey"), and Mike Silva. Mr. Landis serves as the comic "character" always out of place. He is not as lean and as muscular as the others and he uses his body to great comic effect. Mr. Silva's character almost serves as the master of ceremonies. I say "almost" because in truth there are no defined characters here. His role is to help guide the audience in the participation bits. And he does it masterfully. Even though I can only match up two of the names to the eight on stage, all are superb performers. Not a weak link here.
To give you an idea of how strong they are, because everyday objects are used to create the music, inevitably those objects might break. In the opening broom sequence one of the brooms broke. The handle broke apart from the sweeper. The performer was able to maintain his part within the rhythm and in between beats tossed the broom handle off stage and caught a new broom that was tossed to him. In another instance a folding chair broke at the seat. The performer continued using it as a percussion instrument as he walked off stage and got a new chair. Not once was a beat missed.
What makes STOMP so exhilarating to watch is the creative use of mundane objects. A grocery sack, a convenience store cup, even a newspaper become musical objects capable of producing symphonic quality music. Intermingle this with ever evolving and complex rhythms, a dash of humor, and the evening becomes a satisfying whole. The eight performers interact with each other and have solo moments in their percussive choreography and manage to create very real and human relationships that reach a surprising degree of nuance considering there is no dialogue whatsoever.
In the past there was a moment in which the audience was allowed to participate with the performers. We were instructed, via gestures and clapping, to clap in unison and become part of the musical number. In this version the audience is brought in to participate almost at the top of the show and the audience is asked from time to time throughout the evening to join in. This change allows us to become even more involved. Though, in truth, these moments are rather brief. That is until the extensive curtain call and encore. This is where the show departs significantly from its prior versions.
The curtain call brings the audience back into the "creation" of the music. Different rhythms are presented for the audience to clap to. Around the third time the audience gets the hang of it. Suddenly we are now participating with the performers. The curtain call becomes an interactive musical number between the eight members on stage and the entire audience. And with a hand signal given by a performer we all collectively stopped at the exact same moment. Not a single audience member of the 2000 or so messed up! Impressive? YES! However, it is not as impressive as the encore.
The creators of STOMP know that there is something inherently human about the sensation of rhythm. In the animal kingdom there are few animals that understand and feel rhythm. What makes us humans, different from all other animals, is we are able to recognize and feel highly complex rhythms. They also understand that rhythm can have a unifying effect on its listeners. This knowledge is put to use for the most amazing encore experience imaginable.
For the encore different sections of the audience are instructed to clap a certain rhythm. Slowly this is built upon section by section until the audience is left rhythmically clapping or stomping their feet, creating our own unique rhythm. The fact that about 2000 of us could maintain this highly syncopated rhythm was mind blowing. I didn't think anything could top this.
I was wrong.
Something even more monumental happened. The performers left the stage and we as an audience were able to maintain this complex rhythm on our own! Not for just a few seconds but for a considerable length of time! We kept it up and only stopped until the cast returned once more to the stage and took a final bow, the cue for us to stop. This was a testament to the genius of Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the creators of STOMP.
If you've never seen STOMP before, GO! It's a must. If you have, GO! There is enough "new" material to make it seem like it's a brand new show. Definitely do not leave after the curtain call; you must stay and experience the encore. It'll be an experience you will never forget.
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park, 9 First Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
Runs through June 12th
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 8:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 2PM. Tickets are $15-$75, For tickets or information, go to www.dallassummermusicals.org or call 1-800-982-ARTS