STOMP at the Milwaukee Theatre
There was a vibration, a pulsing that could be felt in the downtown Milwaukee Theatre when STOMP opened Friday night. All of this onstage percussion comes from the production’s two-story stage that revisits an urban alley or warehouse with piles of corrugated sheet metal, scaffolding, old signage and steel barrels.
Throughout the near 90-minute physical theater performance, each piece of the set literally becomes an instrument for eight performers selected from a rotating cast of 11. Six men and two women — all equally adept at music, rhythm and dance — costumed in sleeveless shirts, ragged pants, painted jeans and rugged street shoes complement this setting. It appears to allow for the complete freedom of movement necessary to sustain a level of excitement throughout this rigorous performance.
STOMP was originally created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. It debuted in London and later New York in the early 1990s. Since then, it’s a show almost continually in production and has celebrated more than 5,000 performances in 2006. In the next year, the show found a home in Las Vegas. It was there that the creators updated certain numbers and expanded the show with new ones. In addition to the permanent show in New York and the international tour, this year’s North American travelling version continues to generate the unique, entertaining energy that has made them a worldwide hit.
Friday night’s show presented a series of numbers where each musical scene flowed seamlessly into one another. Often an “instrument,” including a broom or paint can, was thrown or rolled out on the set. Miraculously, these performers caught or juggled them, then proceeded to play them with athletic ability and precise timing. In some ways, it resembled a night of informal street jazz; the performers brought a harmonious evening through industrial improvisation and meticulous choreography.
At different points during the performance, when the rhythm becomes powerful, the human heart vibrates in syncopation.
The lighting design by Steve McNicholas and Neil Tiplady spotlight the magic. It was especially effective during a number using cigarette lighters with giant shadows on the theater walls for a dramatic effect.
STOMP showcases the imperfect but marvelous human body via mundane objects, agility and ingenuity, and it engages just about any age. It is an evening touched with laughter and audience participation. While there’s no dialogue (only gesture), audience members may wish to go home and try beating their own saucepan with a tin spoon.
The national tour of STOMP is in Milwaukee for two more performances Saturday evening, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Call Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or visit the Milwaukee Theatre event page for details.