Theater Review: STOMP

Melissa Garrett

As blue and red lights illuminate shiny, metal trash bins, traffic signs and various industrial items on stage, a male performer in a tank top, jeans and a slicked-back baseball cap emerges from a doorway with a broom in hand. As his biceps flex continuously with the swift brushing, the only sound is the back and forth motion of his broom. 

Gradually the stage is filled with all eight performers, each sweeping and pounding their brooms in organized chaos as the sound crescendos upward into the rafters of Stephens Auditorium.

With six men and two women characters, the difficulty of solos and group numbers alternated. Numbers usually included either audience participation or comedic elements to supplement the understatedly impressive movements of the STOMPers. One man did a solo entirely by beating on his own muscular body — on his upper chest, stomach and arms — and by stomping his feet, which seemed to be adorned with a tap shoe. Another character pretended to be a caveman in one of the sketches and made music with the sound of sniffing another character’s hair.

Throughout the show, jumping, slamming and drumming fluidly combined with gymnastics and “hey!”-ing. An underlying and comedic sense of competition between characters established energy and upped the “wow”-factor of the characters. For instance, when three characters came on stage with large metal bins strapped to their feet and elevated them nearly a yard off the ground, the comical character came out after them with tiny buckets strapped to his feet while the audience laughed at his attempt to mimic the other characters. Frequently used for humor, he came out banging trash can lids together to accidentally interrupt a number, which caused an eruption of laughter from the audience.

Some of the most impressive numbers involved all eight characters lighting lighters in a pitch black set. From a visual and audio standpoint, the number was appealing and engaging, while the noises of the clicking off and on of the fire was impossibly challenging. The coordination and timing was perfect, even if it was at the expense of their thumbs.

Another amazing number involved industrial pipes of all shapes and sizes that made different sounds when they hit the ground. Creating music with the pipes, the characters filled the room with their unique sound as the lights cast shadows on their figures, which climbed the walls around the stage and the audience. There was a comedic aspect of this number with a battle to have the pipe with the lowest note versus the most high-pitched note, as the characters fought over who got to make what sound before deciding to create music with all the pipes, regardless of pitch.

My favorite number involved all eight performers using every part of the stage because there was a two-level set with a ladder leading to more pots, pans and drugs. Two characters were harnessed up and swinging back and forth above the other characters, banging on pots and pans to make “ding” and “dong” sounds like bells.  In the finale, everyone started banging loudly on everything in sight as they increased and decreased speeds unexpectedly. My chest felt like it was pounding consistently to the music throughout the show as the set came to life with every beat of STOMP’s trashcan drum.

With uncanny speed and mesmerizing movements, STOMP made music and art by using ordinary items, like shopping carts and basketballs, in an extraordinary way. The audience helped create some of the music by steadily clapping and snapping along when prompted by characters. Keeping the audience engaged throughout the show personally connected the characters to the audience, which was enjoyable for kids and adults of all ages. STOMP inspires its audience to appreciate all sorts of music-making objects and invites the audience members to make their own music by exploring the world around them.

What makes STOMP exciting and relevant to all audiences is the group’s ability to make music with universal items — like trash, newspapers, cooking pots and pans — to show how music is found everywhere and in everything. One number even had sneezing, sniffing and retching noises used in combination with flipping the pages of a newspaper and crunching paper to make music, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Body percussion movements and body sounds make music alongside man-made instruments out of anything anywhere.

With no dialogue in the show, STOMP shows how speaking is unnecessary to call the audience to action, since dialogue was unneeded to entertain the audience for roughly two hours. It takes strength and skills to make a variety of noises with only your body as an instrument, not to mention coordination and improvisation to create mindboggling music out of everyday objects, so I applaud the cast of STOMP for performing numerous feats of bodily movement for the sake of making music.