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STOMP Brings Imagination and Noise to DeVos Performance Hall

STOMP proves creative, energetic, and overlong.

As a toddler, one of my greatest joys was to take a pot or pan, lift it, and let it crash to the floor. What could be better than that? Imagine this: your grandfather is stretched out on the couch, face hidden behind a newspaper. Carefully, with great seriousness, you lift a pot. Then you let it hover in the air for a moment in order to draw out the anticipation. Finally, making sure to hold it away from your toes, you let go. CRASH.

STOMP, which was onstage from March 17th to March 19th at Devos Performance Hall, resurrected some of that joy for me. It’s less a traditional musical and more of a showcase for the ways in which very talented and creative people can make noise. Broomsticks, trashcans, shopping carts, Zippo lighters, takeout containers, water bottles, plastic bags: all these items (and more) are used to make percussion. There’s the barest outline of a story, and a few stabs at character. Dialogue is mostly grunted. But the audience isn’t there for dialogue. They’re there for the noise.

The performers were a mixture of men and women. They played a cast of no-collar characters against an urban backdrop, taking battle against boredom by making astonishing sounds. Some of the best set pieces were the simplest. The single best one involved nothing more than darkness and Zippos as the performers conjured flames in a remarkably precise choreography. Other sections, also great, were deliberately chaotic, kinetic, and loud. At one point, a baby in the audience made his or her criticisms known.

If STOMP is “about” anything, it’s about the ways in which rigor and creativity mean we can make something astonishing out of anything at hand. It’s about the world as a playground, a youthful view that’s beaten out of most of us by the time we reach eighteen. I have no doubt that, over the course of its run, it’s inspired audience members to do more than they thought they could.

At a certain point, though, the magic began to diminish. A story can sustain attention for hours, but acts have it harder. The best juggler in the world would be perfect for a variety show, but would struggle to hold the audience’s attention solo. I felt that I would have enjoyed STOMP twice as much if it had been two-thirds as long.

I may be in the minority. STOMP sustained a 29-year run on Broadway and has been seen by audience members from all over the world. It may be that I’ve become my grandfather, annoyed by clattering as I try to read my newspaper. Still, I wouldn’t have missed that Zippo section for the world.

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