BWW Reviews: STOMP Tour Brings Lots of Noise, Lots of Funk
What kind of stage show do you get when you take random everyday objects—from plastic bags and basketballs, to brooms and garbage cans—and strike them every which way to create a symphony of percussion? Well, unless you've been buried under a giant scrap heap for the past few decades, then you'll no doubt know about (or at least have heard of) the show STOMP, that odd, hyper-kinetic novelty act that combines non-stop percussive beats with light choreography and G-rated humor. Its latest touring company is currently bringing in the noise—and, yep, the funk—to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa through October 14.
Set in what I can only adequately describe as a very tidy, bi-level bohemian junkyard, STOMP showcases the rapid-fire talents of a troupe of manic, rhythmically-blessed performers that, in a span of 90 minutes, create improvised-sounding "musical" compositions by banging objects with other objects. Sometimes—as the title suggests—they even stomp their heavy-booted feet and clap their hands in specific rhythms to add to a multi-layered aural mix. Of course, it's all a not-so-cleverly-disguised visual metaphor that preaches the notion that musical beats can come from the sounds of everyday urban life: broomstick scrapes, taps on aluminum cans, and whipping rubber tubes—all are individual musical instruments that create a symphony of funky sounds.
While not as theatrically-adventurous or as visually-impactful as the boys of the Blue Man Group, STOMP's army of super-talented urban percussionists do manage to genuinely entertain with their astonishing abilities to take a myriad of objects and create their various soundtracks from them. Each successive musical vignette highlights a different set of ordinary objects—at times as simple as a piece of paper or an empty plastic grocery bag; other times, a gigantic rubber inner tube or a large metallic barrel. It's very easy to be completely mesmerized by their clever physical interplay and their super-precise, well-timed, coordinated syncopation.
The cast, for the most part, works as a fine-tuned ensemble, allowing just one or two cast members to stand out. By virtue of his Billy Idol-like looks, bulging biceps, and a de-facto role as the tough-guy "leader" of the troupe, long-time STOMP-er John Sawicki is a hulking presence, barking orders silently and sneering with equal veracity at both fellow cast members and uncooperative audience members. His less-serious opposite is funny man Andre Fernandez, whose wickedly rebellious persona, droll dance moves, and massive afro-puffed coif easily steals the show and the audience's heart. His final gag at the end of the show, as expected, drew the loudest cheers of the night (another cast member also sporting a huge afro, gentle giant Andre Meggerson, manages to swipe the spotlight a few times as well).
But the real treat of STOMP is anticipating—then seeing—what the whole energetic cast will use next, as well as the many funny facial expressions and body movements they take on to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Since they don't speak or sing a single word, the limber cast leap, slide, even—hilariously—gyrate to earn applause. They are all certainly blessed with a great sense of timing and rhythm, so it's really quite remarkable watching every single performer literally "hit" their marks at precise intervals. Also fun: the show's uncanny use of audience participation.
But, honestly, after a while, most of the "music" they produce just starts to sound the same, like it's all part of an endless soundtrack with no real distinguishing highs and lows. Though definitely much more enjoyable than watching an ad-hoc drum circle in the street, the show's set pieces could have used a bit more variety in terms what their inventive machinations actually produced. Their formula, naturally, has stayed true to what has drawn droves of audiences to their shows all over the world for decades now, but it would have been slightly more awesome if, perhaps, they had incorporated their beats into a familiar song or two. Still, it's a minor gripe to an otherwise fun, rousing show that audiences of all ages will appreciate.
The return engagement of STOMP, created and directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, continues at Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Sunday, October 14, 2012. Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org. Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveML.