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Chicago by John Olson

Movin' Out
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Movin' Out
Darren Holden
Whether Movin' Out's return to Chicago, where it was poorly received in its 2002 pre-Broadway run, is an opportunity for Twyla Tharp's show or for Chicago to redeem themselves is a question on which I can't weigh in, not having seen the show in any other incarnation. Regardless, the touring production is an exciting crossover piece of music and dance (I'm enough of a purist not to call it musical theater) that rocks the big Auditorium Theatre with the songs of Billy Joel and surely must well represent the show that ran for over three years on Broadway after being retooled following its first Chicago engagement.

Two of the original cast leads (Tony nominees Keith Roberts and Elizabeth Parkinson as Tony and Brenda) are on the tour and they are more than complemented by Rasta Thomas in the lead role of Eddie, for which he was a replacement understudy on Broadway. Thomas is electrifying: not only as a dancer, but also in his naturalistic physical acting. He conveys Eddie's deep emotional journey and moves seamlessly between movement and dance, capturing the character's journey from cocky teenage Lothario to survivor-guilt ridden Vietnam vet. As on Broadway, the leads are double-cast: the alternate leads I missed are Stuart Capps (Tony), Laurie Kanyok (Brenda), and Cody Green (Eddie). Both casts are well supported by Laura Feig as Judy and Troy Edward Bowles as James.

The piano/lead vocals are double-cast as well, with Darren Holden (another Broadway replacement) taking the opening night duties and alternating with Matthew Friedman. Holden was perhaps the only minor disappointment of the night. Whether his choice or that of Musical Supervisor Stuart Molina, he seemed to rush the tempi. Additionally, his vocals were sometimes delivered without much emotion. Together with a fairly tinny sound system, the music was, though acceptable, less than optimally served. The lyrics suffered more and were frequently hard to understand. This is a loss because one of the accomplishments of this piece is to visualize the tension in Joel's songs between their generally upbeat music and their frequently ironic lyrics. Listening to the songs via recordings only, without benefit of dance dramatization, one is forced to imagine their underlying conflict. In this dance piece, Ms. Tharp and company depict the underlying conflict in a way that is illustrative without being too literal and that makes a case for these Top 40 oldies as possessing more depth than we may have previously believed.

Though I may hesitate to call Movin' Out a musical if I did I'd want to point out how the use of songs not originally written to serve the characters and voiced by a singing narrator in place of dialogue does not allow the establishment of sufficiently developed characters it uses the stagecraft of musical theater to spectacular effect. The set designs of Santo Loquasto establish disparate locales like a Long Island drive-in, Vietnam battlefields, Manhattan nightclubs and an S&M bar; Suzy Benzinger's costumes keep the characters rooted in reality, and Donald Holder's lighting design allows us to travel into their nightmares. Ms. Tharp, her company and the creative team provide a dance program with a point and emotional content. It shows the toll of war on our youngest adults: those must fight it and those in their lives. Sadly, it's a point that has become more immediate since the show's opening in late 2002, months before the Iraq War began.

Hopefully, Movin' Out will live beyond its current status as a Broadway and touring property and become a standard piece of dance repertoire, serving as a reminder of the costs of war for future generations.

Movin' Out plays the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, 50 East Congress Parkway) through July 9th, 2006, with performances Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinees Saturday and Sunday a 2 p.m. For ticket information visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com. For information on the national tour, visit movingout.uvision.net/tour.


Photo: Joan Marcus

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-- John Olson



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