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‘Stomp’ remains a joyful rhythmic wonder

It has been nearly a quarter of a century since Luke Cresswell (a self-taught percussionist from Brighton, England) and Steve McNicholas (a Yorkshire-bred actor, singer, musician and writer) devised, directed and produced the original edition of “Stomp.” And here’s the remarkable big bang of it all: This percussion spectacle and enduring global sensation — which has returned to Chicago for a brief engagement at the Bank of America Theatre — is as bold and bristling as ever.


Highly recommended

When: Through Jan. 25

Where: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe

Tickets: $20-$65

Info: (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com

Run time: 95 minutes with no intermission

For 95 nonstop minutes, the show’s cast of eight gonzo performers — each with a distinctive look and personality — beat out the most complex rhythms using everything from brooms, trash cans, plastic piping, grocery carts and kitchen sinks to their own bodies. Together they make you listen (and laugh) in new ways. And not only do they playfully awaken you to the wonder of the various  textures and tones of sounds, but they create the most complex “compositions” through the use of syncopated rhythms and exhilarating physical force.

Along the way they suggest that almost anything can be turned into a musical instrument, and that percussion is its own special language — raw yet expressive, primal as well as sophisticated. And in several dozen wonderfully varied sequences, their theatrical timing remains impeccable. Nothing goes on for too long, and each “scene” ends with a perfect percussive punchline.

Banging on those trash can drums in "Stomp," at the Bank of America Theatre. (Photo: Steve McNicholas)

It all begins with the swish of brooms, as the performers (six men and two women) stir up the dust on the stage floor and then launch into a series of intensely complicated layered rhythms using the brooms’ wooden handles and the almost flamenco-like stomping of their feet.

But things can just as easily become far more intimate and whimsical as the performers shake tiny matchboxes. As for simple clapping, it turns out to be not so simple after all as the audience repeatedly blows its cues.

Rubber tubing of different lengths (and pitches) is used to create an octet that would make Bela Bartok proud. A very different sort of dynamic is generated when four guys with metal kitchen sinks slung around their necks stir up some mischief.

It is high theater when several of the performers swing from harnesses as they beat the pots, pans and other objects that form the great two-story wall that serves as the backdrop for “Stomp.” They switch modes while up there, too, creating a gentle chime-like effect.

In one charming scene, the annoying sounds of “others” is explored as a man quietly working a crossword puzzle is gradually surrounded by his friends, each adding another little disturbance (coughing, the snapping of newspaper pages, etc.) and creating a nerve-wracking cacophony. Other highlights include the syncopated dribbling of basketballs, the drumming of enormous black rubber “donuts” strapped to the performers’ waists, and a sequence nothing short of mind-boggling in which the group juggles a slew of tin paint cans and simultaneously catches them on a perfect beat.

The show travels with 12 performers who rotate to form the cast of eight. Tuesday’s opening night lineup included John Angeles, Ivan Delaforce, Kris Lee, Andres Fernandez, Mike Hall, Alexis Juliano, Delaunce Jackson and Eric Day. (The others are Cammie Griffin, Ivan Salazar, Reggie Talley and Jeremy Price.)

And one final note: Adults adore this show, but it also is ideal for kids.