After 15 years of performing with “Stomp,” Andres Fernandez joked that he’s one of the old-timers – make that “seasoned veterans” – of the troupe that’s known for turning dance, percussion and comedy almost into contact sports.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said. “I have to stay in shape to keep up with the younger cast members. We are sweating on stage for one and a half hours without a break. It’s exhausting but it’s still really fun.”
A performer and rehearsal director, Fernandez is known backstage as Pooh, like the cuddly teddy bear.
“Sure, it’s a young person’s game, but the show needs seasoned veterans to mold new performers, to make sure they know what the show should be,” he said. “We have a duty to preserve the legacy, even as we are creating new acts.”
The latest incarnation of “Stomp,” which uses items including brooms, trash can lids and plastic buckets to pound out innovative rhythms and inspire unique dance moves, returns to Century II on Tuesday and Wednesday. British street performers Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas founded the show two decades ago.
New this time, Fernandez said, are numbers involving shopping carts and (shades of Blue Man Group) PVC pipes.
“We use British shopping carts called trolleys rather than American carts because all the wheels swivel rather than just the front ones,” said Fernandez, who specializes in comedy routines. “And we call the pipes frogs because that’s what they sound like.”
“There’s no talking, so the comedy is all physical. I’m the guy in the Hawaiian shirt with an Afro who plays music on my belly. I get a nice little pop when I hit my belly button,” said Fernandez, a native of Hawaii who was a backup singer and dancer before joining “Stomp.” He now is based in Las Vegas, where his wife and two children live while he’s on the road. The “Stomp” troupe he’s part of tours North and South America while another tours Europe. Two others have permanent shows in New York and London.
“South American audiences, particularly in Brazil and Argentina, tend to like the music first, while North Americans love the dance and comedy,” he said. “I love what I’m doing because there is no language barrier.”
Alexandria Bradley came to “Stomp” from a dance and musical theater background in Flint, Mich., where her Broadway veteran father founded a dance and performance school three decades ago.
“I was performing a one-woman show in New York when I heard about ‘Stomp’ auditions from my father. I had been involved in all sorts of performance, but not like this. I was intrigued by the opportunity to try something different and learn something new,” said Bradley, who tapped in Savion Glover’s dance company and appeared in “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar” with Diahann Carroll.
“Now, I’m the only one in my family who earns a living ‘playing’ a broom,” she said with a laugh. “The most fun for me is making musical sounds on some random object you’d never expect.”
Bradley is one of the few women in the troupe. There usually are six men and two women during a performance with four cast members in reserve, ready to step in should exhaustion, illness or injury occur.
“It’s pretty athletic. I’ve had a lot of bruises and scrapes but no major injuries, like some have had. It’s a new world for me because it’s like playing on a jungle gym all the time. It sometimes seems like recess rather than working,” she said. “We can get giddy and laugh a lot on stage.”
After a performance, Bradley said she’s not so much exhausted as famished.
“We really burn through a lot of calories, so the first thing I feel at the end is hungry. After I get a sandwich, then I’m ready to literally fall into bed, sometimes without cleaning up first. After the fourth show in a week, it (exhaustion) really builds up.”
Mike Hall, an Indiana native starting his second season with “Stomp,” said performers have to learn to be careful to avoid injuries.
“When you’re swinging brooms around or you’re leaping off things, you have to be aware of what you’re doing every second. You have to be realistic. We call it being ‘Stompin’-smart.’ I’ve had a couple of jammed fingers, but I’ve never been hurt hurt,” Hall said, noting that other cast member complaints range from pulled ligaments to spinal disc problems.
Hall came to “Stomp” as a musician, specifically a snare drummer who had competed in major drum corps and marching band competitions since age 11.
“I saw my first drum line when I was 4. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. When I visited my older brother in Chicago when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, he took me to see ‘Stomp,’ and I was hooked,” said Hall, now 25.
Hall met his girlfriend when both were auditioning for “Stomp,” and said spending so much time together has been “only positive.” As far as the considerable traveling, he said it’s allowed him to look up family and friends he hasn’t seen in a long time. He plans to look up a cousin who lives in Wichita while he’s here.
Hall, who said he easily can be recognized by his beard and “big ears visible all the way to the back row,” said he likes to clown around on stage – not just for audiences, but for his fellow cast members.
“Whenever anyone tries to be serious, I like to lighten things up. I also like to show new ways to react to set moments, to show that I’m growing,” Hall said. “I like to see audiences laugh, but I love to surprise others on stage. It’s a live show, so we get to play around with it.”