'STOMP' Takes Us Back to Music's Roots—And Puts on a Great Show

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

“STOMP” premiered last night at the Fox, the first performance of this weekend’s run, and at first, you’re swept away in spectacle: One guy, one broom, sweeping the stage, followed by the cast slowly appearing to continue the task of sweeping rhythms into the floor: whooshes from the bristles, percussion from upended handles. As numbers bleed into each other, a fantastic array of found objects is used to create the show’s music.

There’s a number toward the end of the show with metal sinks strapped like timpani sets to four yellow-rubber-gloved performers, who use what sounds like Brillo pads and an assortment of dirty dishes (soaking in water, to some aquatic effect) to create an orchestra from the banality of this chore. While the premise of the show appears to be entertainment—creative, innovative entertainment—it’s also a bit more than that: It’s a music at its most human—a reminder of what, deep within our ancestral memory, brings us together—and a celebration of the everyday.

Courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

Courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

Andrés Fernandez, a tall Hawaiian STOMPer with a massive ‘fro, is a typical cast member—in that his background isn’t typical of what you would expect for a touring professional musical company. He played trombone in junior high and high school, and his passion was to just keep music in his life. That’s how others—from Brazil, India, Mexico and elsewhere—are drawn in too. Some of the guys are actors, Fernandez says. The girls are usually dancers. Some people haven’t even drummed before. The process to join the team considers those who have that innate knack for tempo, rhythm and beat: “When you see “STOMP,” you think it’s a drumming show, and everyone has to be a drummer, but they don’t,” Fernandez says. “The trainers believe they can teach anyone how to Stomp. They teach you part of the show and see how well you pick it up.”

If you’ve seen “STOMP” before, the show is structured the same, but the numbers and faces might have changed, solos might have been tweaked. Fernandez, with 20 years in the company coming into sight, takes the consistency to change up his characters and solos and find different ways to make his cast members laugh. It’s worth it go to back to get a taste of this music-making—even at the risk of a slight headache (I’m in my early 20s, and yes, I took an Advil after).

The show transforms the mundane rituals of everyday life into spectacle—which is usually considered to be something meant to distract from the everyday.  The noise of sweeping, a chore viewed by some monks as a way to not only clean but to put the literal earth back in order, is put into order by rhythm to become something more.  Sinks become symphonies, shopping carts an orchestra. Everything is a little more magical, a reminder to look for that in the everyday.

Courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

Courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

But the most beautiful thing about “STOMP” is that it showcases that every human is capable of producing music at an inherent level—not just those with formal training. It’s art’s equivalent of a running contest, tapping down to basic abilities to elevate the everyday into a performance. Here, the rudimentary foundation of rhythm (object A hits object B) is polished and refined into cohesive beats, but it’s accessible enough at that basic, genetic level that kids in the audience might pilfer metal trashcan lids, newspapers and plastic bags to get their own neighborhood group going (parents, you’ve been warned).

The performance is amazing: It’s physical, passionate and features great banter between the cast and the audience, so see it for that. But also see it for that nudge to appreciate what music does for us all: No matter our backgrounds, our materials or our training, the ability to create and be inspired by music is one of our greatest and most deeply rooted traits.

“STOMP” runs until Sunday, April 12, at The Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Recommended Posts