STOMP was back in town this weekend at the Burton Cummings Theatre, and they were as terrific this time as when I first saw them 20 years ago. The 4 p.m. show was 90 minutes of foot-tapping, hand-clapping fun.
Not much had changed since the first time I’d seen them – the set was essentially the same and so were most of the acts; but when you have a great thing going, why change it?
The set was an industrial street scene. The performers wore street clothes as they always have, but I did notice a modern twist with a couple of the fellas sporting the ‘man bun’.
For those of you not familiar with STOMP, they are a troupe of musicians and dancers who don’t sing, play instruments or dance. What they do is use everyday objects as well as their bodies to create simply amazing rhythms and sounds, peppered with plenty of comedic moments.
STOMP premiered on Broadway in 1994 and since then have been seen by millions of people. In this current version there are eight artists strutting their stuff – six men and two women.
The set opens with a fella sweeping the stage with a garage broom. Over the next few minutes his “sweeping” begins to have a distinct beat. He is joined shortly by other sweepers. They greet each other with a guttural “Oy” and other such mono-syllabic grunts.
When all eight are on stage, the sweeping has taken on a life of it’s own, with the swooshing of the bristles brushing the stage, the thunks of the broom frame as they are pounded in unison on the floor and clacks of the broom handles as the performers smack them together. A simple sweeping task became a grandiose musical and dance number.
A STOMP performance is all about precision and timing. I didn’t notice one misstep, even when one of the performer’s broom broke. He threw it off to the side and at that exact moment an assistant off-stage tossed him a new one without missing a beat.
The only time I saw one of the performers slightly break character was a result of a cute moment. He had been doing a complicated solo “clapping” routine – clapping hands, chest, legs and arms to a funky beat, and near the end when the appreciative clapping of the crowd waned this young boy in the row in front of us yelled out an exuberantly loud, “YAAAY”! The performer just couldn’t help crack a smile.
There were quite a few laughs during the show. One of the performers in particular was the comedian of the bunch. He would usually enter once the rest of the group was in full swing, but with a prop that was either much smaller or exaggerated than what the others were using.
For example, the broom he came out with was a double-wide two-handled model, the tube he played was much smaller with a tinnier sound, and his timing was sometimes purposely off.
The 90 minute set goes straight through without an intermission. The eight performers are in top-notch shape – as evidenced by the defined biceps on both women and the six men. Sometimes they do two performances in one day – that’s three hours of solid tapping, jumping, climbing, pounding and of course, stomping.
Throughout the show the audience is invited to participate. A performer would clap a beat and expect the audience to repeat. This would go on until he’d clap a beat so complicated the audience response turned into a mess. The audience had fun and a good laugh, but it also served to demonstrate how difficult and complicated some of their movements are.
An act I hadn’t seen before involved shopping carts being manipulated like musical instruments and maneuvered in a dance-like fashion. They crashed them together, did some “pop-a-wheelies”, strummed the prongs of the carts like a harp and banged on water jugs that were in the carts.
I’ll probably have a chuckle to myself next time I go grocery shopping as I think of how fun it would be to do that in the store.
One of the last performances was the quintessential STOMP movement – the two fellas who came out with two large oil drums strapped to their feet. A ballet of stomping and hitting the cans with some kind of pliable sticks ensued. The effect was, for lack of a better description, really loud and really cool.
More than once during the performance I found myself tapping my feet without even realizing I was doing it. You just can’t see a STOMP show without clapping, bobbing your head or stomping along!