For almost 29 years, the marquee at the Orpheum Theater in the East Village has looked almost exactly the same: the word “Stomp” in big, bold letters. But today, an era ends in Manhattan: The off-Broadway show “Stomp” – known for its avant-garde noise-making and physically intensive performances – is closing in New York after almost 29 years. By the time the dust settles after tonight’s grand finale, “Stomp” will have played 13 previews and 11,475 performances.
The show’s co-creator, Luke Cresswell, and longtime performer Carlos Thomas recently sat down with WNYC’s Michael Hill to commemorate the show’s run, and to confirm its healthy future elsewhere. We’re revisiting that conversation today, accompanied with selected images of the show from throughout its historic run. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
(Listen to the story, below, to hear some of the music from “Stomp.”)
Luke, let’s start with you. This show has been part of your life for even longer than it’s been in New York. You and your co-creator, Steve McNicholas, brought it all to life in 1991. Your co-creator told The New York Times a quarter century ago — that’s 1997 — that you felt like you couldn’t walk away from the show. How have you reached this point where you can let it go, in part, to take a final bow?
Luke Cresswell: Uh, well that’s, that’s a question for the producers, not me. It’s come to its time. I think it’s been struggling for the last year in New York with the pandemic and everything else. It’s just got to that point where it’s difficult to keep it going. I think “Stomp” itself is still on tour in America. We’re in Paris at the moment, so it’s still very healthy. It’s just that New York just seems to have got stuck.
The original deal was to do four months, with an open-ended run. So who’d have thought, 29 years ago, we’d still be here?
So longevity was not always the big goal for this show?
LC: No, it never was. It still isn’t, to be quite frank. I mean, it’s always been about trying to put on the best production of the show you can with the best performers that you can.
Carlos, you’ve been with “Stomp” in different capacities for 20 years, right? That’s about half of your life. You’ve performed locally, you’ve toured, but how did you get pulled into this world and what’s kept you around for so long?
Carlos Thomas: I basically fell in love with the show — there’s no other way to put it. I did not expect any of that when I auditioned, whatsoever. I expected to learn some cool music and play on some weird objects; I did not expect it would affect my life in the way that it did. And what keeps me going? It’s the way Luke wrote it. There’s all this room for you as a person to just grow yourself. So I was like, “when do you wanna stop doing that?”
“Stomp” almost feels like tap dancing, in a way. The sounds that the performers make are just as integral to the performance as the visual art. Luke, how is the kind of dance performers do in “Stomp” different from more conventional types of dance seen elsewhere?
LC: Well, it’s not dance, that’s the first thing. It’s rhythm. It’s making rhythm. And when you move to make that rhythm, you form choreography. Sometimes good hoofers and tap dancers will work to their own rhythm, to their own fill, but most times it’s playing to music. You’re dancing to someone else’s music. You’re dancing to someone else’s rhythm. “Stomp” is about dancing to your own rhythm. It’s your own heartbeat. It’s your own sound.
Carlos, does the performance take a physical toll on your body in some unique way?
CT: Oh boy, let me tell you: yes! Oh my God. This stuff looks great… but it’s an hour and 45 minutes. Mind you, there’s no intermission. Once the beat goes, it doesn’t stop. And it is more than just a physical workout. I still, today cannot find any workout class or anything that puts me through the rigorous physical demands of doing a “Stomp” show.
Three decades is a long time to perform one show. It’s been performed about 11,500 times in New York. And for context, the Broadway classic “Chicago” has only been performed about 10,000 times. How do you think the show has evolved during its 29 years?
LC: The show’s always evolving, and it always was evolving. I think a lot of shows, from a director’s point of view, are often set in stone. You know, you come in, you work, you direct it, you set it in stone, you step away, and you expect that show to be done exactly that way every time. So it doesn’t change. It doesn’t get worse.
“Stomp”’s never been that; it’s always been about developing through the performers. So the shows change naturally because of the age of the performers. As I’ve gotten older, the performers have kept to that age or hang around that age. And you’ve always had that good mix of people in their 30s and 40s, and then people who are like 19, 20. You get that real combination and that’s what makes it, that keeps it contemporary. The beats that they bring to the show, their versions of movement will change. Their dress sense will change, their hairstyles will change. So I think change is the key, really. It’s the fact that it’s changed, it’s kept, its longevity.
Carlos, you’ve toured all over the country, all over the world with “Stomp,” but in an interview you once said audiences in New York are more difficult. Tell me about that. What do you mean?
CT: Wow, interview stuff does come back on you. So I do remember saying that, because people in New York, the audiences in New York, they’ve just seen shows. Broadway’s right up the street. They sit in with their expectation, with their arms folded. Like, “This better be good.” As opposed to when I tour in the middle of America somewhere, those audiences show up with this excitement already. And it seems like the moment the show starts, they’re whistling and it’s like a concert. In New York, it’s different. You better win them over. And I feel that.
I should make it clear for all of us that this isn’t the end of the line for the show, just the end of an era. Touring performances, as you say, will continue for the foreseeable future. Why keep it going?
LC: “Stomp” started in the U.K. and actually went to Australia and other countries before it got to America. America’s been fantastic, and New York’s been our home for so long. But we still have companies touring America, and we still have lots of plans there.
The other companies around the world are still performing strong. It’s another change. And I welcome change.