& & by Sheri Boggs & & & &
Fans of Disney's Fantasia 2000 might remember the one segment from the original Fantasia that made it into the newer version -- "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," in which Mickey casts a spell he can't handle and turns one broom into a veritable army of marching, indomitable brooms. Even when he tries to hack one to bits, its shards spring up into even more full-grown brooms, each bent on its water-bearing mission. The segment unfolds without the aid of language; the music spins out its narrative, against which Mickey, the brooms and the water work out their comedic, dangerous ballet.
Stomp, the percussive, musical and dance phenomenon that was such a hit two years ago, returns to the Spokane Opera House this weekend with all the infectious energy of a toddler and all the precise discipline of a fully trained adult dancer. And just like in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and in the previous Stomp show, the story is largely a visual, musical and kinetic one.
"We don't sing or talk, we just grunt occasionally," says Cameron Newlin, one of the shows' eight players and one of two cast members who was in Spokane two years ago. "It actually works really well with the language barrier, like when we're going from Italy to Mexico."
Fans of Stomp know the show would be nothing without its brooms, trashcan lids, matchboxes, wooden poles, sandbags, drumsticks and oil drums. "If you have to sum it up, it's just about eight janitors realizing that they can make sound with broomsticks and trash can lids and sandbags and hammers and dustpans," says Newlin. But few janitors move like the cast of Stomp, which has been likened to "Fred Astaire in steel-toed boots and Charlie Chaplin in scruffy jeans" by The Vancouver Province. Equal parts sinewy athleticism, street-smart sex appeal and childish appetite for destruction, Stomp has two permanent companies in New York and San Francisco, as well as the touring U.S. and international companies. And even though Newlin and the rest are technically members of the U.S. troupe, that doesn't mean they don't need to keep their passports up to date.
"We tour non-stop," says Newlin. "We will literally go from Denver to Korea to Seattle to Madrid to Iowa City in the space of a few weeks."
With a pace like this, it's amazing that Stomp never once limps or loses its step. In fact, the energy of new players, combined with the all-important audience vibe of various cities make each performance of Stomp somehow fresh.
"It has a lot of improv," says Newlin. "There's only one new song in the show this year, and we have Stomp junkies who see us every time we come around. We were just in Seattle, and we've been there five times in five years and people were telling us they liked all the new parts."
Newlin, who has been with Stomp for three years, says that in addition to the fresh new ways of doing things brought in by the occasional new cast member, the new faces in the audience night after night can add a whole new element.
"Every night it's a little different, we've got a little crowd participation, which varies according to the rhythm capacities of the audience wherever we are," says Newlin with dry amusement. "It's always fun to go from Madrid, the birthplace of rhythm and percussion, to Iowa City. But I'm from Iowa City, so I can make fun of them."
Stomp's roots are firmly planted in rhythm. Founded in 1991 by Luke Cresswell and Steven McNicholas, the show had already been 10 years in the making. When Cresswell and McNicholas first met in 1981, they combined Cresswell's experience as a rock band drummer with McNicholas' theatrical expertise to form Pookiesnackenburger, a group of buskers, or street musicians, that performed on street corners.
Sometimes unable to afford more traditional instruments, Pookiesnackenburger looked around and found instruments in the most unlikely forms, from lampposts to garbage cans. From the novelty of musical numbers performed on non-musical instruments, Cresswell and McNicholas moved on to experiment with longer performances incorporating dance and narrative.
Once Stomp debuted in Edinburgh, it became an overnight hit and has shown up in everything from Late Night with David Letterman to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and appeared in the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards and even commercials for Target and Coca Cola. But not every popping, swishing, crunching and clicking commercial with lots of movement and little talk is a true Stomp joint. As Stomp's press release crisply asserts, "Stomp does not make commercials for potato chips or ridiculously named audiovisual stores."
Okay, we've gotta ask. "Well, Stomp is the originator of percussive dance, but now there are a lot of imitators," explains Newlin. "That statement refers to a certain potato chip company that hired Stomp to do a commercial early on. They had us do the stupid pop top thing, and they wanted us to wear flannel tied around our waists and smile really big and cheesy, which we wouldn't do. So it broke down at the end, and I'm sure there were a lot of lawyers and negotiations. They had to find someone else to do the commercial."
If there's one thing that keeps Stomp sharp, it's the fact that in spite of its wild international success, it remains true to its gritty origins. On mentioning Stomp's urban core, Newlin is quick to distinguish that it's the kind of city life most audience members aren't familiar with on more than a cursory level.
"When you say city life, I think of Starbucks' cups," laughs Newlin. "And we're not about to start banging on those any time soon. I don't know -- it's definitely an urban thing. It wouldn't work as well with farm tools and stuff like that. But by city, I think New York City, and taking it back a few notches to the alleyways and junkyards. That's where it's really at."
& & & lt;i & Stomp is at the Spokane Opera House on Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8 at 4 and 8 pm. Tickets: $32-$36. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &