Who’d have guessed? Barbra Streisand turns out to have been a revolutionary. In her 1973 TV special she sang “The World Is a Concerto” accompanied by everything her arrangers could find from a pop-up toaster and variable speed blenders to alarm clocks and vacuum cleaners. The last two are also in the battery of instruments in the new percussion phenomenon from the creators of “Stomp.” Despite exuberant inventiveness and infectious energy, however, “Lost and Found Orchestra” feels second-hand, and not in the sense its creators intend.
Even before Babs, back in 1936, Ira and George Gershwin told the world to “Slap that bass… Keep the rhythm busy.” And “Stomp” creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas kick off proceedings by going one better: They bring on a quintet of musicians who slap their bass cases. Courtesy of Mike Robert’s excellent sound design, we also hear them rub and scratch them in a steady build-up of ever-more-augmented rhythms.
“Stomp” fans will instantly recognize the style — not to mention the pulse-quickening sound, the black-clad players’ cheery grunge aesthetic and the chirpily choreographed movement. But there’s more to this than just more “Stomp”-ing.
Where the original show was solely about objects that emphasize rhythm, the 30-plus musicians of the “Lost and Found Orchestra” play a vast array of home-made tuned percussion.
This is made clear in the second piece, although the program lists no individual numbers or composers. Twelve players invade the scaffolding-edged, tiered stage to thwack the floor with different lengths of plastic tubing, each producing an individual note. It’s like a trendier version of kids each striking an individual chime bar to make a complete Western scale and then going haywire.
Elsewhere, musicalized traffic cones become “plumpets” and coiled hose pipes with a brass mouthpiece at one end and a household funnel at the other become horns. Marimbas are fashioned from rope-ladder-like wood constructions resonating off low-slung giant water bottles. There’s even a glass harp made of wineglasses that ring with the touch of a finger.
Less successful are space hoppers tricked out like giant maracas. When the players bounce on the balls, it raises an easy laugh, but, as with most of the show — especially the wannabe-droll clowning between the shortest and tallest of the percussionists — the moment doesn’t build.
Enter the law of diminishing returns. The inventiveness cannot be faulted, but the more their creations sound like instruments with musical possibilities, the more you crave more interesting music.
The best stuff has the jauntiness of a Henry Mancini movie theme, but far too much descends into Danny Elfman-esque wails, Thomas Newman riffs and, chiefly, sub-Philip Glass minimalism. When a choir is added to sing endlessly repeated phrases, it sounds like Glass’ opera “Satyagraha” with even less drama.
Its originality appeals to an audience unlikely to book for a classical percussion concert. But anyone attending, say, Sandstrom’s 1987 “Motorbike Concerto” for trombone and orchestra would be treated to something just as crazy but a good deal more musically exciting.
The scale of “Lost and Found Orchestra,” with its necessarily huge stage and seating capacity (and, thus, high ticket price), is its undoing. All this militates against audience involvement. Ironically, the high points, with performers leaping and tossing outlandish, handmade instruments to each other to vivid effect, recall the dynamic simplicity and directness of “Stomp.” The best result of this work may be to remind audiences of the passion of the original, ongoing brand.