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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 13, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Movin’ Out’
It may not be fair to say that "Movin’ Out,"
Twyla Tharp’s creation based on the songs and music of Billy Joel,
"Movin’ Out" was in such bad shape during its tryout last
summer in Chicago that there was talk that it might not make the trip
to Broadway. Well, her creation did make it and is a sensation.
Whatever Tharp made happen, it has all come together in a whirlwind
of dynamic dance and an explosion of classic rock and roll tunes that
combine to tell a story. That’s right, a story without dialogue that
uses only the vocabulary of innovative dance and 28 familiar songs.
I can assure you it has enough dramatic, poignant and compelling action
to keep you riveted and cheering for two hours.
If "Contact" paved the way for dance theater to compete with
the more established and traditional musical theater seen on Broadway,
then "Movin’ Out" confirms, more than ever, the choreographer’s
role as playwright. It’s a good thing that Tharp’s work is so dramatically
specific and descriptive of its subject. This makes its story both
emotionally and intellectually accessible even without a synopsis
(although it is included in the program).
This is helpful because it is virtually impossible to understand the
songs’ lyrics as delivered by "Piano Man" Michael Cavanaugh,
who, though a personable and excellent singer and interpreter, is
mostly drowned out by the over-amplified big band that sprawls across
the elevated stage behind the dancers. It isn’t a stretch to assume
that most of the audience seems to know the songs by heart. The fact
that the musicians’ perch, controlled by hydraulic-lift, is as active
in going up and down, forward and backward, as the dancers, is a notable
feature of the staging.
While the staging of "Movin’ Out" is extraordinary, it remains
for the seven principal and 12 supporting dancers to make their roles
vivid. I am tempted to see the show again just to see the alternate
dancers who appear on Wednesday and Saturday matinees.
As the show unfolds, we follow the lives of six young Long Island
men who grow up, hang out together, date, fall in and out of love,
are drafted, serve in Vietnam, succumb to sex, drugs, and rock and
roll, and even experience a buddy’s death, before they can be rehabilitated
and assimilate back into society. There is a straightforward thrust
to the love and war-is-hell events that lead these young men to an
eventual reunion and re-entry into society.
There isn’t a dancer in the company who doesn’t dazzle us whenever
they are given the opportunity. Standout John Selya, as husky Eddy,
the most alienated of the young men, will send chills up your spine
with his aggressively macho leaps and spins. Elizabeth Parkinson is
not merely hot but scalding as the "Uptown Girl," who later
has a thrilling a no-holds barred fight with the dangerous Keith Roberts.
It will take a dance critic to better describe the reactionary and
eccentric movements and dance patterns that Tharp uses to interpret
Joel’s music. But her very athletic choreography is also incontestably
American and as such is as finely attuned into the subtext of Joel’s
"Angry Young Men" as George Balanchine was to the music of
Stravinsky. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.
— Simon Saltzman
$40 to $95. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
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