When Movin' Out first played Washington last year, two of the leads, Ron Todorowski (Eddie) and Holly Cruikshank (Brenda), ultimately received Helen Hayes Awards for their performances. This blistering modern ballet, conceived and choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the music of Billy Joel, has now returned to the National Theatre with the same leading performers, and it's as electrifying as ever.
Tharp and her dancers understand how to convey emotional truths without saying a word, while simultaneously performing a visceral blend of ballet and high-impact modern dance. The through line is simple enough – five friends growing up together on New York's Long Island in the 1960s, dealing with the upheaval of the era and the impact of the Vietnam War – but it never sinks into cliché.
When the story begins, Brenda and Eddie, "the king and the queen of the prom" in Joel's words, have just split up. Their friends Judy (Laura Feig) and James (Matthew Dibble) are preparing to marry, and single friend Tony (David Gomez) is looking for his place in the world. Soon enough, though, the three men are serving in Vietnam; only two of them come home alive, and they have to figure out where they fit in society and learn once more to relate to the women they left behind.
Because of the intensity of the choreography, three of the five lead roles are double-cast. Todorowski and Cruikshank performed in the opening-night cast: he is a stunningly powerful dancer whose strong legs propel him into astonishing leaps, somersaults, handstands, and splits, while she is tall and confident. Gomez also has his showoff moments, specifically his combative post-Vietnam scenes to "Big Shot" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street."
Tharp's staging is both profoundly felt and deeply physical. At times she plays with various dance forms, as when the three men roughhouse in basic training to the accompaniment of a waltz. Other moments have the delicacy of traditional ballet, specifically Feig's mourning dance en pointe. The scenes range from a buoyant love duet set to "Just the Way You Are" to Eddie's descent into despair to "Captain Jack," and a dreamlike return to the battlefield to "Goodnight Saigon."
Backing the leads is a company of highly skilled and disciplined dancers, all of whom understand who they are supposed to be at the moment and what their characters have to convey. Darren Holden, pianist and lead vocalist, and a well-rehearsed rock band provide the backbone of the production from their scaffolding above the stage.
The National Theatre