Film review: 'Stomp' triumphantly returns to San Diego

    “”STOMP”” is an event where the performers clap for the audience, then the audience

    jumps to its feet shouting for more. Impossible as it may seem, buckets, bodies and brooms morph from the painfully mundane to exotic instruments in “”STOMP,”” an exceptional live show of percussion and movement.

    “”STOMP”” features eight highly talented cast members who snatch items from their real-world calling, such as water jugs, pots, pans, sinks, garbage cans and lighters, and use them to showcase their rhythmic sensibilities. Each of the cast members vibrates with talent, their arms muscled from the constant repetitious drumming.

    These people are good. Their energy is contagious, their faces are open to their excitement and their smiles are obvious. They know they’re good. They have to have that confidence — after all, to be able to perform a routine with six basketballs where anything, even one misplaced bounce, could throw the pace off is risky.

    The beats utterly riveted the people watching, most of whom were unable to quell their own movements to the sounds of opening night at the San Diego Civic Theatre on March 4. But “”STOMP”” is not just a rapid gunfire of sounds. Not even close.

    Sand is used to deaden steps and enhances shuffling. Five-gallon water jugs make hollow tones. Zippo lighters spark on and off, momentarily brightening a dark stage and collectively clacking a beat.

    And, of course, “”STOMP”” is not just cadenced noise. Yes, between the clapping, stomping of the feet and making squeaky noises with a kitchen sink and rubber gloves, “”STOMP”” manages to squeeze in humor.

    Wordless, the cast uses physical visual comedy to keep the atmosphere light and exciting. The humor is simple, yet engages the audience further into the performance. Not only can these cool cats make some incredible sounds with objects that are usually discarded in life, they are seriously witty.

    Wit devoid of words is a unique experience, and “”STOMP”” knows exactly how to deliver it. One troupe member is the main source of the no-talk humor, obviously the butt of many jokes and who causes the most frustration with purposeful bad timing.

    “”STOMP”” proves that a performance can neglect words in favor of sound. It makes the show universally accessible and stripped of dialogue; the audience can focus on potential inert tempos in every inanimate object in a seemingly boring space.

    The set amplifies that rationale. Two stories high, the set is a part of the performance. The cast climbs on it, suspends themselves from it, swings around and drums on the road signs, metal siding, pans and pipes that are affixed to it. The set is a jumble of miscellaneous items from any urban street, but in “”STOMP,”” these items meld to be an integral part of the show.

    Directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas were hanging around Brighton, U.K., one day in 1991, and spawned an idea that would become “”STOMP.”” It was the result of a 10-year creative partnership that had produced the band Pookiesnackenburger, in which they used trashcans as instruments.

    Sound familiar?

    Fast forward a few months, and Cresswell and McNicholas were producing, directing and financing the original production of “”STOMP.”” It premiered at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it began garnering awards like the “”Critic’s Choice”” and the Daily Express’ “”Best of the Fringe.”” At the end of the 1991 tour, “”STOMP”” was nominated for an Oliver nomination for Best Entertainment (think Tony Award) and won the Best Choreography award.

    “”STOMP”” toured England, Australia, Greece and Japan, and eventually began its American run in New York’s Orpheum Theater in 1994. In the United States, it featured an all-American cast for the first time, sold out a national tour and reaped awards like the Drama Desk Award for Most Unique Theatre Experience. Two more American productions were created, and have been on tour since 1995.

    “”STOMP”” will run through March 9 at the San Diego Civic Theatre downtown at 3rd and B Street. Tickets run from $24 to $67, but with the explosive sounds, there are no real bad seats in the house. Call (619) 570-1100 for information.

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