Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Stomp (Playhouse Square Center)

‘Stomp’ a total blast at the Allen Theatre

The ladies sitting behind me at the opening night production of ‘STOMP’ simply couldn’t contain themselves. Out went any pretense of theatre manners. They talked, they hooted, they clapped, they slapped hands with each other. They even waived going to the bathroom because they didn’t want to miss a minute of the goings-on. They, along with the entire almost sold out house, were on their feet several times screaming and cheering for more.

Yes, there’s a lot going on at the Allen Theatre in downtown Cleveland to excite an audience. What’s not going on is the traditional singing, dancing or plot of a musical.

‘STOMP’ has no dialogue. That is, unless you consider a few grunts of “urp,” “oyce,” “whew,” and “hey” to be the language that makes for a plot line.

There’s no music, per se. Not unless you consider the pounding pots, pans, stop signs, auto wheel covers, garbage cans and their lids to be music, or, if you think the sounds of a straw being pulled in and out of the cover of a soda carton, or the crinkling of newspaper or plastic bags is music to the ear. Melodies? How about the sound of folding chairs being slammed open and then closed, or putty knives being slapped against each other, or water bottles being pounded, or cigarette lighters being snapped on and off?

Then there’s the dance. There is lots of dancing, but not the usual choreography seen in a traditional musical or dance concert. There are no classical, modern or contemporary defined movements. There is a lot of tapping. Well, actually it’s pounding feet in work boots. There is jumping, swinging from wires from the stage’s ceiling, bouncing across the stage in cardboard boxes, and sitting around while the feet are excitedly moving around.

So, how can ‘STOMP’ be classified as a theatrical entity? It can’t! It fits no traditional theatre format. It, like all traditions in “busking,” an old British performance form which dates back to village fairs in the Middle Ages, was intended to grab people’s attention and have them donate money to the performers. Tfhe show’s conceivers, Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, contrived an idea of marrying movement and the sounds of everyday objects as their attention-getting gimmick.

Obviously Cressweel and McNicholas hit on a winning formula. ‘STOMP’ has been performed in over 350 cities and in 36 countries. The New York production is in its 11th year, which makes it one of the longest-running shows in Off-Broadway history. It is the most financially successful Off-Broadway show in history. It has been made into an IMAX film.

It has not only been a financial boom for the conceivers, household goods suppliers have made a windfall by supplying the production with the necessary performance items. In an average week the show goes through 30 brooms, 10 wooden poles, 40 newspapers, 20 pounds of sand, 10 garbage can lids, 4 hammer handles, 5 rolls of gaff tape, 12 boxes of matches, 1 tape measure, 7 garbage cans, 20 drum sticks, 4 boxes of tissues and 3 ball point pens. The number of trips to the hospital to treat cast members’ injuries hasn’t been calculated.

Don’t look for a message in ‘STOMP.’ There are no political connotations, no hidden thoughts, and no dialogue to misconstrue. Instead, you're bombarded by noises that you usually try to block out. The show takes the sounds of pipes and brooms and creates the extraordinary with the intent of entertaining. No more, no less!

So how do you describe STOMP? If you ask one of the creators, Luke Cresswell, he would simply say, "at the end of the day, STOMP is what it is." And, what it is is an exciting, wonderful, enfolding, audience pleasing romp!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen ‘STOMP’ in its last six visits to the area...go! You won’t see this on any local stage...they wouldn’t dare...they couldn’t pull it off.