‘Stomp’ still a marvel of fascinating rhythms
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Slam! Bam! Whoosh! Kaboom! No question about it. It’s time to bang on an oil can, click on a lighter, wield your broom, slam your garbage can lids together, wheel that supermarket cart like a speed freak, dance on sand, play plastic radiator hoses like accordions, crush newspaper and trash bags, and just generally feast on a whole lot of noise-making possibilities and enough madly fascinating rhythms to keep your feet in perpetual motion and your ears wide open.
When: Through Jan. 1, 2017
Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Tickets: $39 – $84
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission
In other words, “Stomp,” the aptly advertised “international percussion sensation,” has returned to Chicago — this time around taking up residence in the ideally intimate confines of the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. And the best part of the news is this: The show, created a quarter of a century ago by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas (English buskers working in the seaside city of Brighton) — and subsequently seen by more than 24 million people in 50 countries — is better than ever, with all the original hijinks in place, plus a few winning enhancements in the form of acrobatic dance moves and a piece of true musical magic. (In addition to the North American and European tours of the show, the Off Broadway production continues to thrive, as does a permanent London company.)
Above and beyond all its gonzo spectacle and “you’re in on the joke” comedy, “Stomp” brilliantly draws its audiences into listening in an unusually intense way. In fact, I’ve long thought that if this show could develop a teacher training program it might bring significant change to the whole nature of classroom engagement, for as completely wild and whimsical as the show is, it also possesses the power to focus the mind and spark the imagination. And the moments of quiet are as powerful (and necessary) as the moments when it goes into big bang mode.
And yes, it all begins with one man (John Angeles) and a broom, with the sound of bristles on a stage floor, followed by a gathering of other broom-wielding mischief makers (each with a well-honed personality) capable of generating a gorgeous symphony involving both synchrony and syncopation. (Watching how some of the broom pieces fly off their handles and are instantly replaced by intact ones tossed from the wings is a bedazzling bit all by itself.)
Later, the cast of eight — six men (with the impossibly fleet and funny Reggie Talley a standout) and two women (keep your eye on Kris Lee in particular) — creates a different sort of magic with wooden poles, eventually launching into a sort of primal ritual circle and then shifting full throttle into fierce pole-to-pole combat.
And then there’s apiece even Igor Stravinsky, the 20th century master of percussive rhythms who gave us “The Rite of Spring,” might applaud. As the stage goes dark, the performers form a horizontal line, and, in an act of mind-boggling concentration, they give us a gorgeous sound and light show —an octet that depends on flipping Zippo lighters open and closed on cue. Equally lovely is a “chamber work” for plastic tubes of different lengths and pitches.
The show’s classic corrugated steel wall with balcony becomes an essential part of the act when several performers swing from harnesses and play everything from hubcaps to steel drums. In the “kitchen sink” scene, men arrive with the tubs suspended like giant pendant necklaces from their necks, adding waterworks to the mix. Later, the cast enters wearing gargantuan black inner tubes used to make another boisterous sound. And then there are a couple of sketches in which the cast explores many of the little aural and spatial disturbances of man. A perfect counterpoint. Throughout, the dramatic lighting by McNicholas and Neil Tiplady, displays a rhythm all its own.
Perhaps the greatest delight in all this is the fact that a whole new generation of theatergoers is getting to see (and hear) “Stomp” — a show ideal for all ages in which the cast invariably uses its well-tempered wit in response to the sound of any baby babble from the audience. Giggles all around.