“STOMP”: Making rhythm look easy
“STOMP”: Making rhythm look easy
In my experience, usually, it’s clear when a show is starting. The man sweeping the stage was so innocuous and people were still chatting, so I thought he was just ensuring a clean stage before the performance of “STOMP,” a percussion and movement visual comedy show. He looked startled by the now quiet audience before him as they stared intently at the broom in his hand. Then, the light dimmed and his sweeping became a tune. While not traditionally narrative, each rhythmic vignette of “STOMP” illustrated that music can be found anywhere.
A set cluttered with signs, (“Go,” “Railroad Crossing” and Michigan Ave,”) trash cans and other seemingly discarded pieces of metal doesn’t necessarily scream timeless. Especially when compared with the gorgeous architecture of The Landmark Theater which would typically be thought of as “classic.” However, there’s a reason why “STOMP” has been impressing audiences since 1991. There is something about the simplicity of a group of eight people (I imagined them as friends, although it’s never officially stated) making music with random, everyday objects that feels oddly achievable — I could also find a song hiding among the dishes in my sink.
But the truth is, they just make it look easy. This was evident every time they asked for some audience participation. One of the performers would clap or clang out a sequence and mime for the audience to repeat. For a cast that doesn’t speak at all during the show, they sure are good at expressing disappointment. It’s hard to measure up against “STOMP”; the performers could play a bag full of air and make it sound good, which they actually did at one point. Although nameless, most of the characters have distinct personalities and archetypes — like shy or silly — that feel relatable to one’s own friend group.
The lack of dialogue allowed for humor to surface in unexpected ways. When the men of the group were playing the aforementioned sinks, they were drained in a way that emulated activities completed at a urinal. One man’s sink was taking a little longer to drain. In a scene where one performer is trying to get a little peace and quiet, another has turned a newspaper into a menacing instrument, eventually fetching it like a dog and manipulating it into whiskers.
The amount of coordination needed to pull off every production of “STOMP” is unmatched. If one thrown broom fell or there was a slip on the sand-covered stage, the magic would have been ruined. But it all came together. Even when the stage went black, blinding headlamps were running around the stage, and drum beats were so intense that my watch got a “loud environment” warning. The chaos built up to my favorite moment of the show when two performers, swinging down on a line, played the signs, bottoms of trash cans, and metal objects built into the set as bright colored lights set the scene.
With over 30 years of performances, “STOMP” has become one of the most notable percussion groups (their lack of cobalt-painted faces makes it tough to compete with the Blue Man Group). It’s a show that I think everyone should see at least once. It’s a nice reminder that a good show can come from the unlikeliest of places — even the supply closet.