Movin' Out, an odd theatrical concoction which is the result of Twyla Tharp fitting a story about coming of age in the Viet Nam era to the catalog of Billy Joel songs and presenting it in dance, has been a huge success on Broadway. Tharp conceived the project, directed it, and of course provided he choreography. Never one to design within the mainstream, Tharp has created a new kind of musical presentation. Call it musical, dance piece, or ballet, the mix of existing pop songs presented by a live band with dialogue-free interpretive dance, presented on a Broadway stage struck a chord with theatergoers. Movin' Outopened at the Richard Rodgers Theater in September of 2002, received Tony Awards for choreography and orchestrations and an Outer Critics Circle Award for choreography, and is still going strong. The national tour is seeing the same kind of success (including setting a new record for PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh for single ticket sales for a one-week engagement).
Although most of Billy Joel's songs are products of the '70s-'90s, the story of Movin' Out follows five young men and women mostly through the '60s as they go from the innocence of a high school dance through the turbulent Viet Name war era, grappling with love and loss. The story is very simple (simple enough that the two-paragraph synopsis in the program completely describes the plot). Brenda and Eddie are a couple, but break up early in the show and Brenda is soon together with Tony. James and Judy are the starry-eyed couple who marry shortly before the three young men go off to war. Only two of these soldiers return, and they each struggle to deal with what they have experienced, as the two women provide support and keep the group together.
For those of a certain age, there are specific memories attached to every Billy Joel song. These memories may conflict while seeing and hearing them applied to new situations. Some of the adaptations of the songs are predictable, others are a surprise, but all work well. But the songs and the story are minor players in this show - what Movin' Out is all about is the dance. Tharp's choreography and the impressive performance of that choreography are the big stars of the show. The choreography creates personalities for each character as well as expressing the emotions of the characters as they experience life and grow up. There are many "wow" moments, both in reaction to the unique movements Tharp has designed and to the incredible achievements of the dancers as they seem to do the impossible.
The roles of Eddie, Brenda and Tony are double cast; at the performance reviewed, we saw Ron Todorowski (Eddie), Laurie Kanyok (Brenda) and Corbin Popp (Tony). All roles require high levels of skill and athleticism, but the role of Eddie seems to ask the most of its dancer. Todorowski does everything asked of him, and most successfully takes a journey as Eddie, from cocky fun-loving teen to soldier and down and out drug addict, then back from the darkness to rejoin his friends. Several times, his vigorous and powerful dance moves generate spontaneous applause from the audience. Brenda begins as a spunky, tomboyish girl; she is an independent young women as she deals with the effects of the war and attempts to salvage her relationship with Tony. Laurie Kanyok is a delightful and energetic dancer. Her presentation of '60s hip-wiggling dancing is terrific. Corbin Popp does the most he can with Tony, the least developed character of this trio. He's an appealing, natural dancer, though he doesn't have the stand-out moments some of the others do.
Filling out the quintet of friends are Julieta Gros as Judy and Kurt Froman as James. Gros' execution of ballet moves is beautiful and romantic; she and Froman make a great couple and dance perfectly together.
The supporting and ensemble dancers are excellent. There are no weak links in this cast - they work hard, make it look easy, and create stunning pictures as the story evolves.
At the performance reviewed, Darren Holden performed the songs of Billy Joel, as lead singer and pianist. Holden is excellent at both tasks, not trying to sound like Joel or to interpret the songs exactly the same as the well known recordings. He holds the right level as the songs provide the backdrop for the dancers. Holden is backed by the phenomenal Movin' Out Band (Denny Blake, Malcolm Gold, Adam Snyder, John Isley, Bryan Steele, Raul Agraz, Mark Miller, Dodd Ashe, and John Miller). Playing together, or in individual solo cuts, all of these players are excellent.
Though appropriately minimal, the set by Santo Loquasto, with the band on a level above the stage, is well done, and costumes by Suzy Benzinger are period perfect and help tell the story. A true highlight of this production is the lighting design by Donald Holder. Sound (design by Brian Ruggles and Peter J. Fitzgerald) is refreshingly at a level that is loud as rock music should be, but not to the level of discomfort and distortion.
Lawrence Rabson (Eddie), Holly Cruikshank (Brenda), David Gomez (Tony), and Matt Wilson (piano/lead vocals) perform on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday Evenings and Saturday Matinee.
Movin' Out continues at the Benedum Center through April 25. For performance and ticket information, call 412-456-6666 or visit www.pgharts.org.