Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stomp: The Las Vegas Spectacular?

No matter what else I have to say about Planet Hollywood's "Stomp Out Loud," I have to give it props for having the coolest theater lobby in Vegas. Seriously. Just look at this stuff -- those letters are recycled from old Vegas marquees, that fountain made of a huge roulette wheel. Brilliant. And, by the way, totally free to look around at!

Now, on to the commentary...

By now we're all familiar with this story: A show takes New York or London or some place else by storm and then eventually finds itself a home in Las Vegas. And usually, as long as it's not a traditional Broadway musical, it usually does turn out successfully. Well, it worked for Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group and Mamma Mia. Not so well for some others that need not be named.

So here comes another, Stomp. Or, as they redubbed it, Stomp Out Loud. A cast of multiethnic performers, many of them physically unlikely to have become stage actors, make percussion music with a variety of household items. Brooms, water bottles, boxes, garbage cans.

It was impossible not compare Stomp to the Blue Man Group, a show I adore and, for some reason, can watch again and again without boredom. I enjoyed Stomp, just a little less and with no desire to return. And that's strange because intellectually I knew that what I saw in Stomp was more challenging. In BMG, they're backed up by a full band. They have lengthy sections of humor that have nothing to do with music. And they use those blue masks as a means of separating themselves from us normal humans in the audience.

In Stomp, all of the sound comes from a cast of real, uncostumed people on stage, each of whom gets their own character to act out without ever uttering a word. And, most of all, the brilliance of Stomp isn't actually the notion of making the music but the astounding feat of coordinating all of those people -- sometimes 15 at one time -- to make their peculiar noises in a way that is visually appealing and makes sense aurally. As I said, BMG has only three guys to coordinate.

Stomp Out Loud was great fun -- for the first hour. And then, spoiled audience member that I am, I got used to watching incredibly difficult feats and thought, 'What else ya got?'

And here's where it gets a little tricky. My companion for the night, Trevor, had seen Stomp twice before elsewhere. And he tells me this version was more than 60 percent the same as what he'd seen before. And that's a problem for Las Vegas. Just ask the folks at "Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular," who wisely realized they'd need to do something truly sensational to make it Vegas-worthy, so they built a $40 million theater and reinvented the chandelier-crash as a thrill ride of sorts.

Stomp had some new things -- live showers on the stage that provide for an intriguing and sexy sequence with some new sounds, a mammoth roulette wheel on the back wall that twirled and lit up -- but is it new enough to make people want to shell out $50 to $110 here?

Maybe. I'll let that question just hang out there. I was wrong four years ago about Mamma Mia, which I didn't think had a chance. And I thought "Avenue Q" would catch on. So all I'll say is that if you've never seen it before, this "Stomp" is worthy. And did I mention that the lobby is really amazing?