This evening, I went to see Stomp. I've been hearing about it for years, and it was one of the few NYC shows that had a Sunday evening performance, and it sounded worth seeing.

And it was; I enjoyed it quite a bit.

But I kind of wanted it to go a little beyond what it was. Or possibly I misunderstood some aspects of what it is.

It's been running in NY since 1994. During that time, have the pieces they perform changed? Or has it been the same set of pieces? I have no idea, and TSOR isn't turning up useful info.

A lot of what I liked about it (besides the infectious and complicated rhythms) was the sense of joy of discovery of sound and rhythm in everyday objects, and the related sense of playfulness. The leader character in particular was clearly someone who notices the sounds that things make, and likes to play with those sounds.

But my impression is that the pieces they were performing were the same pieces they always perform. Whereas (perhaps because I just saw Too Much Light the other night) I kind of wanted the show to be something that evolves and changes over time, with new pieces being composed and added. I realized near the end of the show that what I wanted it to be was something more like a concert by a band—they might play some of the same pieces everyone knows and loves, and they might play some new material they've just written. But I don't think that's how Stomp works.

There's nothing wrong with doing the same show for fifteen years (if that's what they've been doing); it's a fun show, and I bet it would still be fun on a second viewing. But I've seen some videos of street performers drumming on everything in sight, and I love the sense of improvisation and discovery that I get from those (though for all I know those performances, too, are always the same), and I wanted this to be a little more like that. Still, I bet they do inspire a lot of people (maybe kids especially) to experiment and play with found percussive sound.

Kind of makes me wonder whether there are Stomp-like percussion performances at places like Burning Man (Stomping Man?), and whether those are more the kind of thing I was wishing this was.

(On a side note, it also struck me that parts of this show are kind of the modern version of tap dancing.)

I thought it was neat that the actors don't speak (at least not in intelligible full words) through the whole show, and yet several of their characters came through pretty clearly—and the leader managed to interact with the audience very clearly through expressions and body language.

I'm especially interested in the characters and in the semi-storyline; another thing I'm not finding info about online. Some of them fit into clearly defined archetypal roles: the Leader was kind of a King figure, and there was another guy who was sort of the Sidekick/friend, and of course there was the Clown; there was also a sort of bumbling-but-lovable guy, and so on. It kept looking to me like the overall plot was about the Clown learning to have rhythm, but then fairly late in the show he suddenly jumped from barely able to do anything to being a full member of the rhythm ensemble, so maybe I misunderstood.

My (mis?)impression of the plot was bolstered by the fact that in the production I saw, the Clown was a smallish white guy (at least, he looked white to me), while five of the other seven cast members were people of color. So it kind of looked like one storyline, such as it was, was about a white guy who didn't have rhythm. But it was saved from being a Magical Negro story by the fact that the others didn't seem to see their goal as improving his life; instead, they treated him kind of like a mascot—they mocked him and teased him and pushed him around a little, but didn't quite outright reject him from the group, and the Leader seemed to have some mild affection for him, much as a king might be fond of the court jester.

But again, maybe I was reading way too much into it; possibly the pieces were meant to be a disconnected series of vignettes with a running gag about the guy who has no rhythm.

And it looks like a lot of the cast members in various productions (including the Leader) are white, so I think some of the racial overtones I thought I saw were an accident of the particular cast I saw. (I thought it was nifty that it was a majority-POC cast, but it also occurred to me that it would be nice if there were more major NY theatre productions that had majority-POC casts with actual speaking roles.)

One other interesting thing about the cast: there was one very androgynous-looking cast member. At one point the middle-aged white guy sitting next to me (who had been talking casually at normal conversational volume with the woman next to him, presumably his wife) turned to me and said, “What do you think, is that a guy or a girl?” I took the opportunity to half-turn toward him and say “SHHHHHH!”, after which he quieted down somewhat. (Though there were a couple later parts of the show where much of the audience briefly started chatting with each other; I just don't get it.) I later wished that I had said something like “Why do you care?” or “I don't know, but they sure are hot!”

(Several of the cast members were quite attractive. I was especially struck by the Leader, who was wearing a tank top and had really big arm muscles. I don't always find really muscular arms attractive, but boy did it look good on him. The guy I thought of as the Sidekick had similarly muscular arms and a similar tank top, but I didn't find him quite as attractive.)

Anyway. I'm glad I saw it, and I might even see it again sometime should the opportunity arise; a lot of fun. But I think I would've liked it even more if it were a somewhat different kind of show.

3 Responses to “Stomp”

  1. Gerry Cargile

    Stomp is great, I’ve seen it at two (or three?) times, each with a different cast and over a great span of time. However, my major complaint about it, is that it IS the exact same show as it was 15 years ago. The medium should lend itself to, at the very least, a slow evolution of the performance pieces, but instead they treat it as if it was a play. I just feel they could do so much MORE with it.

  2. Michael

    Ditto. If the show evolves at all, it’s far too slowly. Stomp was fabulously inventive when it first opened, and has served as source material and inspiration for 15 years. But because it doesn’t change and we have plenty of exposure to theater and music and commercials that came later, Stomp suffers from being seen out of order.

    But I’ll always have a soft spot for Stomp since Lisa and I went to see it the night we got engaged.

  3. Michael

    it also occurred to me that it would be nice if there were more major NY theatre productions that had majority-POC casts with actual speaking roles.

    I don’t see everything in NY, but I’ve seen quite a number of majority-POC (Bring In Da Noise) and well-integrated casts (Rent) on Broadway. I’ve also seen a number of zero-dialogue white casts (Contact).


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