British showmen Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas have long understood a truth known to every kid who sits on a kitchen floor banging pot lids together: There is music to be found in everyday objects.
The pals from Brighton took that lesson and ran with it, all the way to the bank, when they created Stomp in 1991. That gloriously theatrical demonstration of the percussive possibilities of brooms and garbage cans has played all over the world, including an Off-Broadway run that began in 1994 and continues today.
Their long collaboration as directors and composers has led Cresswell and McNicholas into the worlds of film, commercials and television.
“We got a reputation,” McNicholas says from Brighton, “as people you’d go to if you wanted a soundtrack made from unusual sounds.”
One day in a London studio, McNicholas says, the two had a thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to do this live, with an orchestra?”
Pandemonium: The Lost and Found Orchestra is the result of more than four years of experimentation, creativity and an investment that dwarfs (by a couple of million) the $24,000 the guys spent putting together Stomp. And on Thursday, a show that has had just four previous engagements — its premiere celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Brighton Festival in 2006, with subsequent runs in Sydney, Amsterdam and London — begins a 10-week U.S. tour at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Given the duo’s track record with Stomp and the glowing reviews Pandemonium earned during those earlier gigs (when it was simply called The Lost and Found Orchestra), you might expect the new show to be on a faster track to a global profile. But Pandemonium, which is to melody and harmony what Stomp is to percussion, is a far more complex show.
There’s the cast size, for one thing. Stomp is performed by nine dancer-actors, while Pandemonium requires 26 performers and musicians — plus a 30-member choir drawn from each community where it plays.
The instruments are all invented and include the Bed Bass (a steel folding bed with strings that deliver a two-octave range), the Stringed Wok (a wok topped with steel-guitar strings), the Squonkaphone (a kind of saxophone made from plumbing tube, balloons and gate latches) and the Plumpet (a plumber’s pipe attached to a traffic cone supported by an IV stand).
After creating the instruments, McNicholas and Cresswell had to write music, then get players, dancers and actors together to take the sounds and songs into a theatrical realm.
“It’s frustrating that it has taken this long,” McNicholas says. “We’ve only been able to do it once a year for the past four years. But we’re proud of it. It complements Stomp.”
Cresswell, one of the original Stomp cast members, returns to the stage in the larger Pandemonium because, he says from Brighton, “it needed conducting.” He and McNicholas created the music via their typical collaboration.
“We feel free to trash each other’s material without worrying about it,” he explains. “We get and give feedback right away. It’s always been like that. It stops you being too protective of ideas.”
Mike Roberts, whom the partners describe as their “sound genius,” will mix more than 120 channels of the Pandemonium orchestra’s other-worldly sounds for the Arsht. Roberts has also worked to build the instruments through much trial-and-error; a bouncing ball concept, he says, just never quite gelled.
But working with Cresswell and McNicholas for has been a catalyst for his creativity.
“Their concepts are so great; then they challenge you to come up with solutions to their fantastic ideas,” Roberts says. “They give you this great, open canvas. . . . After the best part of 20 years, they still surprise me.”
Arsht Center executive vice president Scott Shiller got to know Cresswell and McNicholas when he was working in theater in Boston, and Stomp had long runs there. He is convinced that Pandemonium, a timely addition to the center’s schedule after The Aluminum Show was delayed for further development, will build on the momentum created by the successes of Slava’s Snowshow and Fuerza Bruta.
“Producers know we’re looking for high-impact, engaging projects of a nonverbal nature,” Shiller says. “Launching national tours is what we want to be doing. . . . We want to create new work and be a testing ground.”
Shiller says the quality that sets Stomp and Pandemonium apart from similar productions is its creators’ gift for shaping a show.
“They take the audience on a journey, building energy and interest along the way. As I followed Stomp, I started to understand the genius of its structure. It’s not just that it starts small and builds to a climax. There’s a through-line for individual characters, and there’s a theme. That is the lightning in a bottle,” he says.
Though the music in Pandemonium is almost all original, the orchestra does play a folk song — Rundadinella — as an encore. Cresswell acknowledges that trying other music with his unusual orchestra might be intriguing.
“If you replaced standard orchestral instruments with these, what would Mozart sound like?” he muses.
As for McNicholas, he’s just happy that audiences seem to love music made from bottles, saws, hoses and radiator pipes.
“It’s an achievement,” he says, “if we can move audiences with our junk.”