Music News & Reviews

Review: Sheer creativity of Stomp keeps it fresh nearly 30 years after inception

Stomp is playing at the Sacramento Community Center Theater until Sunday.
Stomp is playing at the Sacramento Community Center Theater until Sunday. Broadway Sacramento

I was expecting more trash cans, frankly.

The aluminum receptacles and shining lids, brandished like marching cymbals, seem to dominate photos in newspaper clippings describing Stomp, which date back as far as 1991, when the show premiered in the United Kingdom.

As I entered the downtown Community Center Theater, I feared that the aging percussion routine would cling to its fundamental gimmick, the novelty of watching musicians perform with trash — akin to passing a busker in the street banging on paint buckets, lingering for a moment out of lurid curiosity and moving on after dropping a dollar in his hat.

My trepidation was, you could say, stomped out by the end of the first performance of the roughly 100-minute show.

In this first segment alone, the broom-wielding cast of eight was circling around, mirroring their steps and alternating the strike of their broomheads on the stage with the elegance of synchronized swimmers but with the force of a drum corps.

Only a portion of Stomp’s appeal rests in its musicality — while there’s plenty to be enjoyed there, what’s more captivating is the blend of auditory and visual elements, each complementing the other and each beautiful in its own right.

The performers’ backlit bodies cast dancing shadows on the walls of the theater, producing an almost tribal atmosphere that the audience was invited to explore themselves.

Between the more raucous performances, lead percussionists mutely invited us to little call-and-response sessions, clapping twice and giving an imploring look to demand our echo. We eagerly obliged, but as the night wound on, the performers offered more and more complicated rhythms for us to echo, looking utterly disappointed when we failed and gleefully grinning when we succeeded.

For a show with next to no words, Stomp succeeds in forming a human connection with the audience and shows a remarkable chemistry between the cast members.

Each performer, in their own way, plays a character whose playful contests, silent reproaches, subversion of established rhythms, or slapstick aggression serve to cultivate a sort of social fabric that we are invited to join.

Stomp is fundamentally empowering in this sense — for a moment, we can believe that we have a rapport with these eight people, who wear sweatpants, tanktops and sneakers, just like us and who push shopping carts and read newspapers, just like us, with only ordinary objects to amplify their talents.

Although, of course, the performers did utilize much more than mere trash cans. Without spoiling any of the best reveals, some of the more interesting props included corrugated soup cans played like guiros, sand sprinkled onstage for added texture and kitchen sinks full of water and dishes.

These and more were used to create rhythms which were not overly experimental. You will find no unusual time signatures or an abundance of metric modulation, but in general they remained as florid as most moderate to advanced drumline cadences, certainly enough to remain engaging without alienating anybody.

The skill of the performers was best appreciated during solo opportunities, when individual percussionists hammered out painful-looking knee-slapping soft shoe numbers or let loose with a pair of sticks.

There are potentially no shows other than Stomp that provide such a disparate array of sounds and emotions, with ominous, quiet segments followed by boisterous, thundering ones, and such an array of props that the audience has to keep guessing about what might come next.

It certainly beats seeing a movie or concert of middling quality out of sheer admiration for its creativity.

If you go

Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street

When: Feb. 1 to Feb. 10

Admission: Tickets start at $26

Info: Showtimes and tickets can be found here.

Vincent Moleski covers business and breaking news for The Bee and is a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State. He was born and raised in Sacramento and previously wrote for the university’s student newspaper, the State Hornet.