Some new shtick in 'Stomp'
What we liked about "Stomp" - and there must be something, for the dance-a-little, whack-a-lot percussion show has been kicking around the world for 20 years - used to be its ferocious energy. The rhythmic whisking of brooms would erupt into a cataclysmic clatter of samurai handle-pounding that would have you adrenalized and moving to the heavy beat.
That energy is still the main event as "Stomp" hits the Warner Theatre this week, but what really clinches the deal for audiences nowadays is the show's wit. It's funny, full of wordless clowning - and that's really the entire hook, that the eight ragamuffins in ripped clothes and heavy boots communicate through deadpan glances and silent ribbing as they devise musical riffs on everything from tiny matchboxes to huge oil drums.
In fact, in the slightly revised production now on view, comedy seems to have a bigger role than ever. One performer gets yuks from his big hair and soft tummy, and he even has a Snoopy moment, getting jubilantly carried away by another performer's rhythmic inventions. A few sight gags with ripped newspapers seem to be fresh, and while the routine has nothing to do with rhythm, it gets big laughs.
The show's humor has always had such a wide but understated appeal that you don't feel dopey comparing it to silent film comedy. And if it seems more pronounced these days, it may be partly because the dance-tap-drumming routines don't always have the intimidating snap of "Stomps" past. Precision matters when you're making music this way, and when a clap-a-clap-a-clap-a rhythm ripples quickly from one performer to the next, the speed and cadence can be intoxicating.
Things do get enthralling with this cast at the Warner, though not as reliably as they might. You can quickly spot who has the real dance chops and where the hot-dog percussionists are - the highs and less-than-highs in what wants to be a balanced ensemble. This group is never shoddy, but now and then what ought to sound like clicking pistons gets a little wobbly and rumbly.
The new "Stomp" shtick involves some paint cans that get tossed and whacked, plus a late bit with giant inner tubes worn around the waist with bungee-cord suspenders. The inner tubes make a great, deep sound as they're pounded; they're a neat addition to the drummable novelties that creator-directors Luke Cresswell and Steven McNicholas have dreamed up over the years.
But if you've seen the show before, you'll recognize most of the routines: the quirky staccato melody of hollow tubes, the brilliant quartet of metal kitchen sinks, the grand clanging on a climbing wall and the delightful curtain call that sends the crowd out in a finger-snapping mood. If you've never caught "Stomp," no worries - it's hardly mandatory. If you have a taste for street theater writ large, you could do worse. It's a remarkably durable amusement.
Stomp Created and directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. Lighting by Steve McNicholas and Neil Tiplady. With John Angeles, Jaclynn Bridges, E. Donisha Brown, Andres Fernandez, Cammie Griffin, Michael R. Landis, Guy Mandozzi, John Serwacki, Mike Silvia, Elec Simon, and Nicholas Van Young. About 100 minutes. Through Sunday at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. Call 800-551-7328 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.