Stomping for 25 years in New York

Actors in Stomp at the Orpheum Theatre in New York use everyday objects such as brooms to create a wordless percussive explosion onstage.
Actors in Stomp at the Orpheum Theatre in New York use everyday objects such as brooms to create a wordless percussive explosion onstage.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • One man's trash can be another's treasure. That is the lesson you might take from Stomp, a New York-based stage show that has become a fixture in a city where sticking power can be hard to attain.

About to mark the 25th anniversary of its New York premiere, Stomp has endured, thanks to objects like brooms, garbage cans and wooden poles to create a wordless percussive explosion onstage.

It is the brainchild of Luke Cresswell, 55, and Steve McNicholas, 63, who still maintain creative control.

They started working together in the early 1980s. Later, they busked on the streets outside the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a band called Pookiesnackenburger.

The group split up and the two formed an ensemble of eight performers that made its debut as Stomp at the festival in 1991.

Cresswell had been the band's percussionist; since he could carry only a few small drums, he began improvising on the street, which meant he would use surrounding objects too.

McNicholas said: "We quickly learnt how much the audience enjoyed that kind of experimentation."

After three years of international touring, the duo took the act to New York where it has never left the Orpheum Theatre in East Village.

Along the way, Stomp launched touring companies, appeared on late-night television, filmed an HBO special and collaborated with A-listers.

It has become a part of pop culture, which has not fazed the duo. "We're British and we live in England, so we're quite reserved," said McNicholas. "We're used to people telling us we're nothing special."

As the show celebrates a quarter-century in New York, here are some things you might not know about it.

• Props might seem widely available, but Cresswell said everyday objects, depending on where they are made, create different sounds. He and McNicholas have the props shipped from Britain by boat. On one voyage in the late 1990s, a freak wave hit a boat and a box carrying trash cans sank to the bottom of the North Sea.

• Stomp has used a total of 13,000 poles, 5,200 boxes of tissues and 52,000 candles during its New York run. And 7,800 bandages have been plastered on drummers who suffered injuries.

• In the late 1990s, Star Wars creator George Lucas was looking to cast Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the highly anticipated prequel to the franchise. He had seen Stomp on the West Coast. Cresswell recalled: "They were looking for someone really musical and with rhythm." Lucas and the casting director invited several Stomp cast members to audition. Ahmed Best got the job - as Jar Jar Binks, who became one of the most reviled characters in Star Wars history.

• The Stomp creators have had plenty of celebrity collaborators, from singer Bette Midler to vaudevillian Bill Irwin. The founders' favourite appearance, they said, was with singer Paul Simon and late-night-show host Jimmy Fallon, performing the Simon And Garfunkel hit Cecilia on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2011.

• In 1999, Cresswell and McNicholas had planned to mark the millennium scuba-diving off Micronesian island Yap, until they got a call from the office of Mrs Hillary Clinton, who was then First Lady of the United States. She requested they perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on New Year's Eve. The duo dutifully did the show and skipped the scuba-diving. "Then we partied at the White House till four in the morning," Cresswell said. "It was fantastic." McNicholas added: "It was the best party I've ever been to."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Stomping for 25 years in New York'. Print Edition | Subscribe