By: Luke Cresswell and Steve MacNicholas
At: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St.. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com; $39-$84. Runs through: Dec. 30
Stomp is a symphony of sound made out of items stretching from industrial oil drums to household objects like matchboxes. The show has been touring for almost 20 years, and its continued success likely comes from the performers' theatrical explorations of mundane, everyday objects.
Developed by co-directors Luke Cresswell and Steve MacNicholas, Stomp features performers who at first casually move about the warehouse-like stage space, using push brooms to sweep up dust, before organically discovering dance and noise, with their bodies and the wood and bristles becoming vital instruments. This sound experiment evolves into play with rubber tubes, metal sinks, shopping carts, plastic bags, and in one surprising turn, a banana peel.
Dancers Kayla Cowart, Jonathan Elkins, Desmond Howard, Alexis Juliano, Guido Mandozzi, Artis Olds, Jeremy Price, Crystal Renée, Ivan Salazar, Cade Slattery, Steve Weiss and Joe White form an exuberant ensemble, allowing their individual personalities to shine through in moments of humor and surprise.
Much is made of a dancer completing a crossword while others make music with their mouths and their own crumpled newspapers. One member of the ensemble constantly muscles his way around the others. Another does half-baked magic tricks. Still another vies for the attention of a fellow musician by blowing air into a plastic bag and squeaking a straw stuck in a soda cup. The purpose of the piece is to play, and each performer brings a distinct creativity and timing to their Buster Keaton-like bits.
As much as the show is about discovering humor and creating music with unexamined objects, the relationship between the actors and the audience remains paramount. After sweeping across the stage with brooms and turning matchboxes into maracas, the performers integrate the viewers into the theatrical event. One cast member claps out a rhythm, and gestures expectantly at those seated in the dark until those in the seats clap back. The audience becomes part of the resulting dance routine, creating a theatrical experience with the artists onstage.
The magic of Stomp is heightened because we see the effort with which the performers ply their craft. They collapse in the performance's final moments, after drumming on every available surface on the set. In the opening number, I spotted bristles flying off the push broom of one dancer. When sawdust is spread on the floor, it calls to mind a meatpacking plant or lumber mill, and the intense physicality on display rewards the viewer with exhausting creativity and innovation.