STOMP: A High-Energy, Interactive Romp for All Ages

We all know the old trope—your kid gets an expensive present and ends up playing with the box, transforming it into a house, a race car, and maybe a rocket ship. STOMP, a wordless dance and percussion performance, has the same feeling of free-wheeling creativity as performers repurpose everyday objects into musical instruments. The high-energy numbers and the playful ingenuity with props appeals to all ages, which probably goes a long way in explaining the show’s longevity.

I used to live a block away from the Orpheum Theater in the East Village and would see happy, laughing people spilling out onto the sidewalks after seeing STOMP, but I somehow never made it to a performance myself, until recently. When I slid into a seat, two 9-year-old girls in tow, I realized I had missed out on a fun show for—oh, about 22 years. It’s a lively, interactive performance with lots of humor, energy, music, and of course, dancing—but not the kind you usually see in an Off-Broadway production. Children will appreciate the improv feel and exhilarating antics.

STOMP has been running in New York City since 1994, and that enduring run should testify to its staying power. (If only we all aged so well.) Sure, the aesthetics reflect the grittier New York of the '90s and the costumes have more than a tinge of grunge about them. But your kids probably don’t know about grunge (unless they’re way cooler than they have a right to be), and they’ll just enjoy the atmosphere. The walls of both the set and the actual theater are festooned with street signs, sinks, auto parts, garbage cans, and the like—many of which feature in the actual performance. Before the show even began, my young companions were absorbed by the scenery, wondering how stagehands had managed to hang a double sink two stories up.

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Performers use everyday objects to create thrilling scenes and musical numbers.

The excitement in the audience was palpable, and just as I heard “When does it start?” for about the hundredth time in 10 minutes, a lone man with a broom came onto the stage and started sweeping. This simple action commanded even the smallest child's attention, and the actor was soon joined by other cast members as they created a rousing musical number, armed with only brooms, their shoes, and their bodies. When a cast member ran through the aisle and vaulted onto the stage, the kids around me went wild, cheering with excitement.

There is really no big overarching plot, and the performances are more like sketches strung together, but each act did use a mundane object to create music or at least a sound. Matchboxes, lighters, inner tubes, sticks, and shopping carts are all used in different and innovative ways. Of course, because this is a percussion performance, there are drums—big oil can-type drums played with high energy by performers, who even rappelled up and down the multi-level set. I was amazed by the fitness of the performers, who maintained a breakneck pace through almost the entire 90-minute, no-intermission show.

Kids will also enjoy the interactivity of the performance. Periodically, the first actor on stage—in our case, the fantastic Marivaldo Dos Santos—reappears to teach the audience to clap in elaborate patterns. (Spoiler: We’re not as talented as the actors, as evidenced by Dos Santos’ entertaining expressions.) But please try to keep up. At one point, I paused in my participation, and was called out—in a funny way—by a performer. Audience heads swiveled to see just who the deadbeat was, as I quickly feigned as though I'd been clapping all along.

Everyone in my party agreed that one of the favorite pieces was actually fairly low-key. A lone actor—the charming Reggie Talley—wants to read a newspaper, but just can’t get any personal space. (As New Yorkers, I think we can all appreciate this premise.) As his friends join one by one with their unique annoying noises, the lead grows increasingly frustrated. While this act didn’t involve the acrobatics and intense dancing of the other pieces, it showcased the unique comic talents of each performer—and best of all, it seemed as though the actors were truly enjoying themselves, too. Alan Asuncion—called "the really funny guy" by my daughter—and Krystal Renée have a particularly entertaining interaction.

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A little water and low-brow humor never hurt anyone.

Another particular favorite with my group involved drum sticks, buckets, and sinks filled with water. There is a little potty humor here, but the performers’ expressions are so hilarious that it’s not at all crude. In fact, my favorite thing about STOMP was that the actors manage to convey so much emotion with just the twitch of an eyebrow or a sidelong glance.

On a purely practical note, the theater has sloped seating which allows a decent view of the stage—but if you’re behind someone tall, as we were, the ushers will happily get you boosters, and may even move you to a seat with a better view, if there’s room. Also, although this is technically an "all ages" show, it's not for the little ones. Kids must be at least 4 years old to attend per the theater.

If you’re looking for a bite to eat before or after the show, you really can’t go wrong in the East Village and several kid-friendly options are just a stone’s throw away. One of my old standbys, the Ukrainian diner Veselka is only a block away, on the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue. If your child isn’t adventurous enough for pierogis, the menu also has burgers and sandwiches. Be warned: lines on weekends can be long. Nicoletta, a pizza restaurant, on 10th Street and Second Avenue, is a safe bet, as is Dallas BBQ, which is right across from the theater. Fresco Gelateria is a can’t-miss, but if you want to go old school, Veniero’s Italian Bakery, established in 1894, is a delicious throwback to Old New York.

STOMP is showing at the Orpheum Theater, 126 Second Avenue at Eight Street. Check the website for a full schedule of performances and pricing information.

All photos by Steve McNicholas/courtesy STOMP.

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