Dallas — Experiencing a performance of STOMP is similar to being back in high school and watching the guys and girls of the drumline make constant rhythm with anything they can find.
You remember them. They carried their drumsticks everywhere they went, banging on lockers, the sides of desks, the cafeteria tables, and any surface that would elicit a noise. When told to put their sticks away (or if they were taken away), the rhythms didn’t stop. Hands beat against chests, thighs, walls, and ordinary objects like cafeteria silverware became elaborate musical instruments. For most, it was either mildly entertaining or grew terribly tiresome.
STOMP’s creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas turn that natural percussionist impulse into an elaborate, entertaining, and comedic blow-out performance. They first started working together in 1981, but it wasn’t until ten years later that the first incarnation of their show premiered in the U.K.
Now, the award-winning show has hit almost every entertainment and pop culture milestone. Performed in over 50 countries for more than 24 million people, it’s been featured in commercials, television specials, award shows, numerous DVDs, and even made an appearance at the 2012 London Olympics. After a six-year hiatus from the Music Hall at Fair Park, Dallas Summer Musicals brings STOMP back for a limited engagement.
Patrons who’ve followed the show through live performances, TV, or online media will see most of the favorites, although even the mainstays continually evolve. An open curtain and set stage greet audience members walking into the theater, and a lone performer pushing a broom across the stage signals the start of the performance.
The show has something for everyone. The appeal to musicians is a given, but even the non-musical type can appreciate and be astounded by the creativity behind the rhythms and sounds. One expects percussion to be loud, and this is certainly the case for the signature segment involving metal trashcans and the other where the performers swing from a wall filled with household and street objects just waiting to be instruments. Fortunately, those are the only segments where the noise level turns overpowering, as most sections have a pretty reasonable volume.
The hushed subtle moments prove just as powerful, though. In the skillful hands of the musicians, the small surface of a matchbox provides infinite possibilities for a complex sound score. But it’s not just rhythms that find their way into the performance. Rubber tubes of varying sizes create a beautiful melody as the performers lightly strike them on the floor.
Take away the objects, though, and just like the drummers of your high school days, the artists continue the show. Tap dancing and body percussion wow just as much (if not more) than the use of found objects. Performers display remarkable hoofing skills, going beyond simple rhythms, and the ensemble tap segments amaze.
From a movement perspective, the motions exacted from creating the rhythms prove as fascinating as the sounds themselves, making this show visually stimulating as well as audibly exciting. Each performer’s individuality shines not only in their solo moments, but in how they make the percussion, even in the ensemble parts. Items such as the long sticks and trashcan lids provide exhilarating moments for martial arts and dance maneuvers, and the tossing of objects between them (such as cans and basketballs) up the visual element even more.
The two newest elements deliver a combination of the above qualities to the performance. Using plumbing fixtures of various sizes as accordions, the musicians create frog-like sounds (hence the name of this segment, “Frogs”) while wearing headlamps on a mostly dark stage. In another part, shopping carts add another layer of delight, not only from the different sounds created but by their movements. Performers push, pull, and launch the carts around the stage with astonishing ease and skill, given the unpredictability of carts encountered by the typical consumer.
STOMP wouldn’t be what it is, though, without the comedic aspect, which usually happens at the expense of a singular odd character who finds himself holding the short end of the stick (sometimes literally) or slightly out of sync with the group. This character (performed by Guido Mandozzi Tuesday night) finds some satisfaction and recognition towards the end, though.
The show runs without intermission, a little over an hour-and-a-half, so it’s a shorter evening compared to most DSM shows. Bring your smiles and rhythms, because you too will be a part of this show. Gotta love audience participation.