Listen up: music, specifically rhythm, is a universal language. It’s in our bones. While some have a more developed sense of it than others, we all respond to a beat. Unless you’re dead.
The eight singular performers in Stomp not only have a supremely enhanced sense of rhythm — they breathe it. Everyday items — a trash can, brooms, plastic tubs, paper bags — become instruments to beat out a unique and musical routine. They pound on the floor with their tap-equipped workboots while beating a rubber tube as if their lives depended on it. Perhaps they does? Many of these performers are Stomp veterans. This long-running hit has provided a career for them.
However, not only do they get a chance to show us their impressive percussive abilities, this group demonstrates the power of teamwork. In fact, there is tighter ensemble work going on here than in many of the more traditional shows I’ve seen of late. These performers wholly depend on each other to complete a rhythmic phrase, which usually involves catching something and tossing it on to the next person, and if one person isn’t fully engaged, it’s like a house of cards.
Even when the props they use break from all the beating (at least two brooms snapped in half last night), they effortlessly pull another one out from the wings or from the junkyard set and carry on, not missing a beat. They’re a well-oiled machine.
And, in a delightful surprise, comedy also plays a strong role. Things can get pretty headachy when listening to incessant beating for 90 minutes, but these eight folks each bring with them a unique personality that breaks up the energy through moments of genuine laughter — again without using any language other than visual cues and sight gags.
This is my first time seeing Stomp, so I’m not quite sure how the cast rotation works. There are twelve performers listed in the program, but only eight perform each night. I’m guessing they rotate. This group was great, with a standout performance from Justin Myles (again: not sure if this role is rotated). In the spirit of “Simon Says,” a repeated segment involves Silvia clapping out a phrase, with the audience clapping it back in response. The rhythms gradually get more complex, and the 2,000-plus audience kept up as a unified group surprisingly well. This proved an inspired way to pull us into the performance while reminding us: we’re all capable of rhythm — we just have to pay attention. And listen.
However, I don’t think I’ll go around kicking garbage cans into the air any time soon.
“Stomp” plays through May 2 at Bank of America Theatre. More information here >