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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Movin' Out is Provocative with
Incredible High Energy Dancers

Also see Richard's reviews of Gypsy and The Producers

Movin' Out
Darren Holden
Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel's dance musical Movin' Out comes to the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the 2003-2004 Best of Broadway season. On October 24, 2002, Broadway saw a new dance musical open at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The critics went wild over the production, which has a technically superb assembly of high energy dancers telling a story with no dialogue. Ben Brantley of the New York Times called it "a shimmering portrait of an American Generation," while Richard Zoglin of Time Magazine said "this exhilarating production seems to want to burst out of the theater, setting a new standard for the rock musical." Movin' Out reached its 703rd performance in New York as of July 4, 2004 and is still running strong.

What is Movin' Out? A ballet, a "new musical" or a dance event? Ms. Tharp did not know what to call it. As reported in New York Magazine, she said "It's a full-length. That's what it is. It's a full-length ballet. But you can't call it that." (Probably the best reason you can't call it that would be that only balletomanes who frequent the San Francisco or American Ballet Theatre would go to see it.) "Just use the title and let everybody else call it whatever they want," Tharp said.

Movin' Out tells a story in two acts. It's an all-American tale of love, loss and redemption set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War era, a story of lifelong friends through the two decades that change them, and the world around them, forever. All of this against a backdrop of Billy Joel songs like "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "Pressure."

I first saw the original production in New York and I was more impressed with the dancers than the Billy Joel songs; some were obtuse and sounded the same to my old ears. I have to admit I am not a big Billy Joel fan but I was willing to give them a listen one more time. The 28 songs played and sung by pianist Darren Holden and the eight piece rockin' band ensconced on a platform high above the stage make more sense. Holden is outstanding as he gives a splendid simulation of a Billy Joel performance.

Movin' Out has many scenes, each moving swiftly as the three lead male characters, just out of high school and living in the blue collar neighborhood of Hicksville during the halcyon days of the '60s, are movin' forward to the ache and disenchantment of the Vietnam War. The opening dance sequence, with the characters as teens, is a tornado of raging sexual desires. James (Matthew Dibble) is appealing as he courts a delightful Judy (Julieta Gros). She is wonderful as she experiences of her first love. Brenda (Holly Cruickshank) is the prom queen and she marries Eddie (Ron Todorowski), though they break up. Brenda hooks up with Tony (David Gomez), who is more compassionate. The dancing is vibrant and joyful, full of high kicks and the swaying of hips to the music of the day. All that is about to change.

Vietnam happens and high school idols Eddie, Tony and James are shipped out to that far away country. Scenes and dancing are deeply movin' as we see the horrors of the war and commiserate when James gets killed in combat. The scene of Judy carrying the folded American flag at James' funeral is heartrending. Eddie and Tony return from the war disillusioned with life. Eddie turns to drugs and illicit sex as he rages against everything. There are scenes that depict Eddie's nightmares that are horrifying. Tony disconnects from everyone and is angry at the world.

Twyla Tharp and company wrap it up with some big reconciliation scenes that seemed hurried and not as well constructed, with all of the dancers doing various free floating movements representing a better way of life in the future.

Movin' Out's dancers alternate in the lead roles of Brenda, Eddie and Tony. On opening night Holly Cruickshank (the girl in the yellow dress in Contact) was captivating. She possesses the fierce, graceful energy of a feline with a beautiful body that any person would envy. Her dancing is powerful, with her acting delicate and perceptive.

Ron Todorowski is astonishing, lithe, mobile, and acrobatic. His tormenting guilt over the death of his buddy is powerfully conveyed. His energetic dancing is breathtaking. David Gomez brings more than the requisite dancer's tool to his role. His erotic and athletic dance movements are beautifully performed. Matthew Dibble is very charming and has polished dance movements.

You see the same high level of commitment and energy throughout the company. This is brought to bear by Tharp's choreography, which combines elements of ballet, jazz and modern dance. There are times that you just can't take in everything that is going on stage.

Movin' On plays at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor at Market, San Francisco through August 29th. Tickets can be obtained at Golden Gate Theatre, Orpheum Theatre Box Office, (1192 Market at 8th), through Ticketmaster by calling 415-512-7770; at all Ticketmaster ticketcenters; and through ticketmaster.com.

Best of Broadway continues with the return engagement of The Producers with Bob Amaral and Andy Taylor opening on October 13 for a limited engagement.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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