All words: Stephanie Breijo
We begin with an urban sprawl; not the sprawl of an entire cityscape, per se, but the sprawling set of “STOMP” made to encapsulate the dirt, the grime and the heartbeat of a city. Perched above the stage is an impressive rig with chimes, traffic signs, trash can lids, and oil drums spray painted in vivid primary colors. To those familiar with the show, this is a percussionist’s playground. To those unaware of the theatrical–even musical–phenomenon, it’s eye-catching, at the very least. It is also the perfect first glimpse into a nearly two-hour-long universe where words no longer matter and what the human body can accomplish with little to no resources is truly mindblowing.
“STOMP,” which you can catch now through February 9 at The National Theatre, is one of the longest-touring productions of the last 20 years, stopping in over 50 countries and performing for over 24 million people. It’s with good reason. The show is a unique and playful blend of comedic interaction and percussion using every day objects ranging from lighters and matchbooks to shopping carts and kitchen sinks. Throw in some audience participation–a call and repeat clap clap escalating to increasingly difficult cadence–and you have an enjoyable evening for all ages.
But the secret to “STOMP” lies much deeper than its “banging on a trash can” reputation; the set, the rhythm, and the physical banter would be nothing without the understated charisma and wordless character development by its ensemble cast. Its handful of percussionists is a skilled crew of versatile music-makers as well as actors who command the stage, sometimes more than the drumming itself.
After all, what would two hours of sheer drumming skill be without the occasional comedic break? Over the course of “STOMP” we’re treated to a bevy of awe-inspiring numbers–men and woman sway back and forth upon the stage’s rig, swinging and banging with all their might; our percussionists illuminate the stage only with synchronized lighter play; they promenade wearing, as shoes, the massive oil drums they’re beating–but the wordless interactions, like a man stuffing his shirt and doing the hula during a newspaper-as-percussion number, for instance, provide just as many memorable moments as the very backbone of the show itself.
The ensemble is so effective that throughout the show I heard exclamations like, “WERK” and “Oh my God!” from the audience behind me. It came as no surprise that, come the end of the evening, they were all given a standing ovation; and why not? This production of “STOMP” managed to strike awe and wonder into National Theatre’s adults just as easily as it did the children. Bravo.