Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Old Season: The Beating Goes On — And On — At "Stomp"

Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Drummer
By Mitch Broder

I once took a cute little nephew to the East Village to see “Stomp.”

The cute little nephew has just been named a manager at Walgreens.

This is not to say that the show guides kids to positions with drugstore chains. It’s just to say that it has now been running long enough to have done it.

“Stomp” is the fifth-longest-running show in Off-Broadway history. It opened in February 1994. It’s not close to having as many performances as “The Fantasticks” — which ran for forty-two years and is running again — but it is close to having as many performances as Walgreens has drugstores.

This is commendable, when you consider that it has no plot, no dialogue, no music, and no lyrics, not to mention no flying, though it does have some pretty good dangling. It has stomping. It has banging. It’s ninety minutes of stomping and banging. If that gives you a headache, buy earplugs. There’s a Walgreens a block away.

Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Cast
The show photos are by one of the show's creators, Steve McNicholas.
 This is a previous cast. You can only bang for so long.
In honor of the job promotion, I revisited “Stomp.” The show’s from England, but after seventeen years it’s an indelible part of New York. It’s at the Orpheum, one of the theaters that once had shows performed in Yiddish. The show I wish I could see there now is the reaction of the Yiddish shows’ audiences to “Stomp.”

The theater is a dump. Intentionally. The whole space is done up like a junkyard, jammed with things to stomp and bang on. Surrounding you on the walls are beat-up pots, pans, grilles, grates, hubcaps, fan blades, street signs, sinks, tanks, springs, and at least one automobile bumper.

I was also surrounded by twenty-five kids from Venezuela. Groups like these tend to be the audience at shows that run for seventeen years. But I liked them. They got me in the mood for noise. And in a moment of uncharacteristic luck, the seat in front of me was claimed by a short one.

A tough-looking guy in dreadlocks walked onto the stage, sweeping. He glared at the kids from Venezuela, who responded appropriately by giggling. He was joined by six other men and one woman, and soon they were all doing synchronized sweeping. You want Rockettes, you go to Radio City. Down here you get street rats with push brooms.

The eight scrappy characters then proceeded with the performance of precision percussion played on scrap. They jiggled matchboxes. They crackled bags. They slammed metal folding chairs. They beat on sinks suspended from chains around their necks. They did a flame dance with Zippos. I inhaled the butane.

It all built like a fireworks show, until, by the end, everybody was everywhere banging on everything.

I still liked it all. But I liked the matchboxes better than the sinks. When you see a show once every decade, you can observe your aging process.

The place was nearly full on a Wednesday night, and the audience was very happy. It’s impossible, but the loudest thing I heard all night was the ovation. As he watched people rise, a Venezuelan boy near me gave the show the ultimate compliment. He leaned over to me and asked earnestly: “It’s over? Or is this the middle?”


Stomp Orpheum Theatre New York City Vintage Destination

Find your rhythm at “Stomp,” at the Orpheum Theatre, 126 Second Avenue, between Seventh Street and St. Mark’s Place, in Manhattan.

4 comments:

  1. "You can only bang for so long"? Really? I suspect the now not so little nephew would argue otherwise with the aid of products found at Walgreens!
    Very impressive Mitch ~ thanks!

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  2. What can I say...a wonderful memory! So glad your second visit was enhanced with the "uncharacteristic luck" (since the nephew wasn't there). I recall enjoying the matchbox bit years ago...and feeling like "it all built like a fireworks show."

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  3. Sold. What's good enough for your nephew, is good enough for my us. Sounds like a must see...or a must bang!

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