Stomp Out Loud
Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas
There’s no doubt the historic Vegas Strip property that morphed last year from the legendary Aladdin into the sparkling new Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino has a lot going for it—not the least of which is the new-fangled industrial-strength permanent 1,500-seat, $28 million auditorium created especially for the equally sparkling new hit Vegas production STOMP OUT LOUD.
Beginning with SOL’s startlingly eclectic 8,000-sq. ft. lobby designed and decorated completely by environmental designer Michael Brown from discarded found objects, the place is jam-packed with rusty old street signs and license plates, crisscrossing industrial piping, defunct appliances, a profusion of still operational neon structures, abandoned slot machines paying subtle homage to old Vegas, and multitudes of sculptures recalling the questionable genius of Betty Boop’s grandfather, some made from wheels that can actually make the entire apparatus turn. Entering this area is an entertainment in itself and perfect for continuing the youth-oriented theme throughout the newly renovated property. As SOL co-founder Steve McNicholas noted in an interview during the opening festivities in November, “The decorative ‘junk’ is found locally at salvage yards, recycle centers and antique stores and we also received items from Planet Hollywood during the casino renovation process.” Too cool, this, and a wonderful addition to the modern restructuring of Las Vegas.
The Aladdin first opened back in 1966 complete with a pre-Steve Wynn nine-hole golf course and entertainment provided by Jackie Mason, but was put on the map bigtime the following year with the wedding of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. As early as three years down the road, however, the hotel was trying to hold its own. In 1972, after a $750,000 makeover as early as 1969, the property was sold for a paltry $5 million and a $60 million facelift was put into motion, including the addition of a 19-story tower and a 7,500-seat performing arts center replacing the golf course. With a budget overage of $4 million, things still looked shaky until the Aladdin finally hosted a grand re-opening in 1976 with Neil Diamond reportedly paid $750,000 for two shows. But the Aladdin still faltered despite all of these efforts, closing completely in 1997 and, the following year, the entire resort, except for the Aladdin Theatre, was imploded to make way for the construction of an entirely new property.
The new-new Aladdin reopened in 2000, featuring the Desert Passage mall, which mixed modern American flagship stores with middle eastern motifs under an enormous painted sky. Unfortunately, the project remained in monetary trouble from the start and was sold again in 2003, immediately setting off another major transformation in the facility’s journey to become Planet Hollywood. Renovations were carried out in stages, allowing the hotel to remain open throughout, and the brightly modern new facility debuting to the world last year includes an expanded casino and part of Desert Passage converted into the LA-themed Miracle Mile Shops.
But perhaps the most innovative decision from Planet Hollywood was to bring in the creators of the international sensation STOMP which, since its humble beginnings in England in 1980, has turned street performance art into something far more marketable. “It was really inspired by seeing great world percussion groups like Kodo and Burundi and old movie musicals,” said McNicholas, who created STOMP with fellow busker Luke Cresswell. “Fred Astaire began one of his dance routines by picking up a broom. We wondered what would happen if he kept the broom and never put it down.” Their wildly diverse and highly imaginative signature entertainment received worldwide recognition in the mid-90s, with the guys’ triumphant world-traveling STOMP eventually growing into the musical phenomenon it is today, continuously touring the globe before setting down for extended spells in London, New York and now, thankfully, Las Vegas.
McNicholas and Cresswell are quick to point out that STOMP OUT LOUD, though developed from their earlier efforts, is a whole brand new show, featuring a sensational 16-member cast energizing that knockout playing space designed specifically for this production. Based more on the 1997 HBO film of the same name, SOL begins with one solitary unlikely-looking performer (veteran STOMP-er Cam Newlin) wielding an industrial broom to quietly sweep up the empty stage, the staccato swish-swish-swish of the bristles his only accompaniment. He is soon joined by one other castmember, sweeping as well but to a different rhythm all his own.
By the end of the opening sequence and with the dawning realization to viewers that this show does not have a band or orchestra stationed anywhere and no one to keep the beat except the performers themselves, there is a stage full of brooming urbanites, all creating a sound that falls somewhere between harmonic musical composition and the tinny sounds emanating from a factory assemblyline slapping labels on tin cans. SOL does contain some of the original STOMP’s most famous routines, but trust me: this show features a plethora of brave new musical sequences, props unique to this production alone, and fresh choreography by McNicholas and Cresswell guaranteed to deliver spectacular surprises at breakneck speed.
The remarkably infectious performers in SOL come from a variety of disciplines, from ballet and jazz to African dance and hip-hop. Aided immeasurably by Mike Martin’s towering set covered in discarded scrap materials, dressed in perfect grungewear and sporting bandanas and heavy work boots sure to make a fine cacophony of sound, these breakdancing fools are totally amazing. Armed with banged-up garbage cans, battered cardboard boxes, and gigantic lengths of flexible radiator hose—there’s even a segment featuring oversized industrial restaurant sinks filled with splashing water—this show is a glorious celebration of life and the ingenious creativity of our species. Beyond even that, it’s a fine commemoration of what our bodies can accomplish afforded a little freedom and enough humility to honor the primordial roots from which we all arrived here at the turn of a bold and limitless new millennium.
It’s impossible for audience members not to get caught up in the positive energy and delight these McNicholas and Cresswell have created along with the exceptionally talented artists they’ve hired to join them here and make them proud. STOMP OUT LOUD will have you drumming your toes on the floor and grooving in your seat, I guarantee you, and long after final curtain, you’ll be tappin’ out a tune on the window frame of the cab back to your hotel and soon after your arrival there looking for objects in your room to turn into music all your own. Try lining up half-full bathroom glasses on the air conditioning unit and hitting them with room service cutlery. It worked for us.