"Stomp" begs a question: Why spend millions on a Broadway boondoggle like "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" when audiences will cheer a show featuring props available in their own garage? Sometimes simple concepts -- like celebrating the seemingly unstoppable urge to make noise with metal dustbins, oil drums, push brooms, inner tubes and matchboxes -- are the most successful.
Co-directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas created "Stomp" in 1991. The show became a hit in Great Britain and soon went worldwide. It has played in New York's East Village since 1994 and touring companies are always on the move.
Despite the show's popularity, it's easy to feel a bit cynical about the phenomenon. Street musicians were beating on plastic buckets with drumsticks long before "Stomp" caught fire. The Twin Cities band Savage Aural Hotbed has incorporated found-object percussion into its industrial-inspired music since the late 1980s. But like Blue Man Group, who introduced a tame version of performance art to mainstream culture, the makers of "Stomp" hit upon a formula that transformed grit into gold.
The "Stomp" crew appearing at the Ordway Center in St. Paul this week clearly enjoys their junkyard set. Every available surface offers sonic possibility. They honor the title by stomping their boots with gusto. The choreography focuses on jumping and marching movements spiked with "Mad Max"-style fervor but some performers also incorporate a global flair inspired by African dance or capoeira into the mix.
The show's concept holds up for the most part. The call-and-response with the crowd does get old, and some of the sight gags feel too easy, but the rapport that develops between the performers and the audience over the course of the evening is genuine.
The artists also share a playful relationship with one another, particularly as they single out the eager, if klutzy, Guy Mandozzi for goodnatured torment. Elec Simon is the source of many of the evening's funniest scenes, especially when he transforms a stack of newspapers into an art project gone awry. And the raucous troupe even enjoys quiet moments, such as the synchronized clicking on and off of Zippo lighters in a virtuosic display of timing.
The human experience is increasingly defined by clatter and clutter. If nothing else, "Stomp" reveals the untapped potential for rhythm in our lives.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.