"Stomp" is back in Manila. Photo: Handout
MANILA – The international stage sensation “Stomp” returned to Manila with a big bang, with the eight-member cast receiving a loud standing ovation from the audience during its gala night on Tuesday at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
The cast even gave in to calls for an encore after the curtain call -- which was quite rare for a theatrical presentation. With the energy still high inside the CCP Main Theater, Filipino-American performer Andres Fernandez led another round of call-and-response with the audience, while the rest of the cast jammed “Stomp” style, using a variety of everyday objects that had been used earlier during their 90-minute performance.
Several audience members even mingled at the theater lobby after the show as they waited for the cast, who emerged for a meet-and-greet session and posed for photographs with the opening night crowd.
It was a memorable homecoming for Fernandez, a veteran Stomper who has been performing with the show for 17 years. Fernandez, who has played every role in the long-running Broadway and West End hit, was tapped at the last-minute to play Sarge, who opens the show and acts as the leader of the group.
London cast member Adam Buckley was initially slated to play that part, he told members of the Philippine media who interviewed him at the West End just weeks before the Manila shows.
With his large afro hair and stocky build, Fernandez exuded a cool nonchalance and refused to play to the hometown gallery as he confidently led the Stompers, particularly in the first couple of routines, where he was practically onstage all the time.
Also making a mark was Reggie Talley, whose crazy antics were a big hit with the appreciative audience. With his lanky body and expressive facial expressions, Talley didn’t just serve as a comic foil as he also surprised with some smooth b-boy moves and flips.
This part was played with Mr. Bean-like deadpan humor when this writer saw “Stomp” in London. The marked difference only highlights the flexibility of the “Stomp” concept and why, after all these years and competition from similar acts, the show still manages to enthrall.
The 2014 version of “Stomp” -- it was first staged in Manila in 2011 -- includes two new routines which were added just last year. “Frogs,” which was quite short, gets its name from the sound created by the accordion-like plumbing fixtures used by the cast, while the more extensive “Trolleys” number features supermarket carts carrying empty water containers.
But the two new numbers proved no match to the vintage “Stomp” routines. Compared to the broad physical comedy of “Newspapers” and the visual puns of “Kitchen Sink,” “Frogs” seemed rather cute, while “Trolleys,” despite its complicated musicality, had more zip on the smaller stage of the Ambassadors Theatre in London. (The shopping carts had to travel a longer distance at the CCP.)
Still, the more elaborate junkyard set at the CCP helped heighten the intensity of the other routines, particularly during the more muscular group numbers and when they had to throw and catch things like cans or basketballs without missing a beat.
The individual spot lighting also added drama to the movements and poses, while the added height of the stage made the scenes of the Stompers swinging around in harnesses more spectacular.
But less is indeed more, even with the concept of “Stomp” which creates musical magic from the most ordinary of objects from brooms and garbage bins to plastic bags and water drums.
Among the most applauded routines at Tuesday’s gala was “Zippos,” which plays with both light (fire) and sound, and the one where the performers use only their hands and feet to make sound.
Watching “Stomp” makes one realize that much of the sounds of the city that we often dismiss as mere noise can, in fact, be transformed into something much more engaging and electric.
And Filipinos, with their innate sense of rhythm, are natural audiences for the wordless “Stomp,” which has always relied on the “universal language of rhythm, theater, comedy and dance” for its long-running success. In many instances at Tuesday’s gala, the audience reacted to the various routines as if they were watching a concert, as they cheered the display of musical bravado.
No wonder they asked for an encore.
“Stomp” runs only until June 22 at the CCP.