In November of 1998, an episode of the TV show Mad About You included an appearance of that era’s cast of Stomp. A conversation between Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) is interrupted by the sound of percussion in the apartment above them, and a discussion ensues:
Paul: What the hell is that?
Jamie: The new neighbors upstairs.
Paul: Who moved in? Germany?
Jaimie: Stomp. It’s a percussion group.
Paul: Oh! The guys with the show? With the brooms and the stick and the banging and the clomping and the hitting?
Jamie: I like ’em.
Jamie is not alone in her admiration of Stomp; however, “like” is an understatement — Saturday night’s enthusiastic audience at the Durham Performing Arts Center was thoroughly mesmerized from beginning to end. Stomp has been similarly captivating audiences around the world since 1991. And there is one word that any description of their act must include: ENERGY! The eight performers simply never quit.
Created and directed by Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell, and produced by BANG Theatricals! et al., with lighting by McNicholas and Neil Tiplady, Stomp is a unique must-see production. The program lists 12 performers: Jordan Brooks, Kayla Cowarty, Joshua Cruz, Jonathan Elkins, Declan Hayden, Madeline Jafari, Jasmine Joiner, Riley Korrell, Cary Lamb Jr., Artis Olds, Sean Perham, and Cade Slattery. But only eight appear onstage at each performance. Each of these eight is a highly skilled musician-actor-gymnast-athlete-dancer, and the team performs imaginative routines with the precision of a well-oiled, finely tuned machine (as well as with the grace and beauty of a team of synchronized swimmers).
Their music is strictly percussion (similar to that of a drum corps), but the performers use totally nontraditional objects as their instruments. Indeed, they are able to coax performance-quality sound out of sticks, buckets, shopping carts, sinks, cups, trash cans (and their lids), suitcases, newspapers, dryer hose, hubcaps, traffic signs, boxes of matches, sand, …. And the list goes on and on.
The opening routine employs push-brooms. A single performer appears onstage as though he is there simply to sweep up. Very shortly, he “notices” the audience and begins using his broom to create a rhythm. One-by-one, the other performers join him, and magic begins to happen. Some of the musical movements in this segment are performed with all eight brooms (and all 16 feet) tapping out a single rhythm in unison; other movements are so intricate that they could only be described as symphonic, with each performer beating their own piece of a much greater whole. With their highly charged drive, it is inevitable that some of the brooms are going to break, and they have a rehearsed, theatrical routine for getting replacements.
Many of the routines include the entire octet, others involve only select members. Some routines are strictly ensemble; others highlight a solo performer, with the others performing as a “back-up band.” (And there is at least one routine that features a series of such solo acts.) In my mind, I nicknamed one routine “dueling matchboxes.” And then I was delighted to see more “dueling” in later routines that involved staffs and trash can lids. In every case, the choreography is impeccable.
Speaking of theatricality, each performer exhibits certain personality traits, and the various personae interact with each other in entertaining “bits” — sometimes as part of one of the routines and sometimes in the transitions between routines. We witnessed “the guy who can’t keep up” and “the expert who rubs it in;” also: “the guy who doesn’t quite fit in” and “the ‘clique’ who repeatedly snub him.”
Saturday night’s audience developed quite a bit of sympathy for these underdogs. It is worth noting that the characters are costumed in “street clothes” that are also character-specific.
Most of the routines are performed on a single level, and there is a wall at the back of the stage that has an eclectic montage of items of various colors and textures. Using sticks on these objects, certain performers create rhythms while suspended on ropes.
Stomp makes use of “call-and-response” technique as well. A “lead” performer will tap out a rhythm that will then be answered by another or by the entire ensemble. With this pattern established, a “lead” is also able to lure the audience into “responding” to a “call” during a few of the sections. Saturday night’s audience really got into this!
Stomp is an audio and visual feast, laced with character and humor. Saturday night’s audience was on its feet responding with thunderous cheering and applause. Let the record state that I recommend that everyone see it today at 1 and 7 p.m. at DPAC.
By the way: It is possible to get a taste of what it would be like to attend a performance of Stomp by watching a video (from 2009) on YouTube. But don’t stop there — as the saying goes: “There’s nothing like the real thing.”
From the Department of Picky-Picky (and this is about as picky as picky can get): My experience would have been enhanced if the various routines were named, and the program were to include a list of them along with brief descriptions.
P.S. The Mad about You episode is Season 7, episode 5 (which is available on Prime Video). And the Stomp team does make an appearance in the final scene.
STOMP, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, presented as part of WRAL Greatest Hits of Broadway at DPAC. DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/stomp-returns-to-dpac-september-4-5-2021. DIGITAL PROGRAM: https://issuu.com/dpac0/docs/stomp_16-pg_final_digital. OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://stomponline.com/. TRAILERS: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/stomp-returns-to-dpac-september-4-5-2021 and https://www.youtube.com/user/StompNY. TICKETS: $24.50 and up. Click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): E-mail: Groups@DPACnc.com and Visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Susie Potter’s Review.
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.