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Performance review: 'Pandemonium' at Royce Hall

November 18, 2010 |  5:30 pm

Pandemonium 1 
“Pandemonium,” the latest musical adventure from the creators of “Stomp,” ended its brief run at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday, leaving us with a formidable SAT question:

“Pandemonium”: “Stomp”
a) Traffic cones: brooms
b) Piping: thundering
c) Fits of drowsiness: slight headache
d) Nickels: dollars
e) All of the above

The correct answer is e) all of the above. Still scratching your head? Then allow me to guide you through the logic.

“Pandemonium,” featuring the Lost and Found Orchestra, creates music out of an array of homemade instruments. The 26-member ensemble pats cello cases, shakes water jugs, sets bows to bendable saws and thumps, strums and blows a cornucopia of weirdo objects that look as though they’ve been assembled at the world’s most fanciful hardware store.
As a former high school shop class dunce, I won’t even try to break down the component parts of the Bed Bass, Stringed Wok and Squonkaphone. And as I was kicked out of band in my first year (long story!), I can only tell you that the whines, chirps, meows and groans emitted by these thingamajigs have an astonishing reliability. 

But the “Pandemonium” title misleads. The orchestral whimsy conducted by Luke Cresswell, who created and directed the show with his fellow Brit Steve McNicholas, operates under strict supervision. The instruments may be makeshift, but their "music" is as carefully coordinated as any major philharmonic symphony. (Whether you’d want to buy a recording of this somewhat monotonous concert, however, probably depends on your appreciation of 3-D blockbuster soundtracks.)

“Stomp,” which turned adolescent boys’ mania for drumming into a money-raking global phenomenon, was a percussive juggernaut, always threatening to explode in a conflagration of ricocheting rhythm. More ingenious musically, “Pandemonium” is less satisfying theatrically than its predecessor.

It's not just a lack of escalation (although a choir, largely consisting of members of UCLA Chamber Singers, adds some much needed vocal pep at the end of the program). The production's fey spirit has a self-congratulatory aspect to it, like a pelican enjoying its eccentric pelican-ness a little too much.
The oddities keep rolling out — filing cabinets, more traffic cones, children’s toys that squeak when conked. Barrels, ridable balls, inflated plastic baggies, “Phantom of the Opera”-size equipment.  Any minute Monty Hall could have popped up to find out what crazy stuff we might contribute to get in on the act. (Surely someone in the audience could have provided mean accompaniment on a comb.)
It’s hard to imagine “Pandemonium” developing into the same decades-long sensation as “Stomp.” (Poor ticket sales have already put the kibosh on an extensive U.S. tour.) The staging sets the urban troupe, decked in mid-length black jackets, in continual motion. But spread out over two acts, the sound has trouble sustaining its fury. It’s “Stomp” on sedatives after a crash course in obscure music lessons.

-- Charles McNulty\charlesmcnulty

Photo: Members of the Lost and Found Orchestra perform "Pandemonium" during a special press event in September celebrating the U.S. premiere at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)