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Robert Abrams
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Movin' Out

by Robert Abrams
June 3, 2003
New York, NY

Movin' Out

Conceived by Twyla Tharp
Music and lyrics by Billy Joel
Directed and Choreographed by Twyla Tharp
Scenic Design by Santo Loquasto
Costumes by Suzy Benzinger
Lighting by Donald Holder
Sound Design by Brian Ruggles and Peter J. Fitzgerald
Press Representative: Barlow/Hartman

Producers: James L. Nederlander, Hal Luftig, Scott E. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Clear Channel Entertainment, Emanuel Azenberg

Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th Street


Performed by: David Gomez, Elizabeth Parkinson, John Selya, Ashley Tuttle, Scott Wise, Benjamin G. Bowman, Michael Cavanaugh,
A Full Cast, and The Movin' Out Band

Robert Abrams
June 3, 2003

Movin' Out is a unique dance concert. Whether you think it is brilliant or questionable depends on whether you are a member of the show's target audience. There is no doubt, though, that the show brilliantly meets the desires of its target audience.

The music was designed like a rock concert. It was very loud with flashy set design. The band played on a large catwalk that moved up and down and forward and back as needed. The band and the singer, Michael Cavanaugh, did a great job of faithfully belting out Billy Joel's songs.

This was not just a rock concert. Movin' Out is an illustrated rock concert. The show was non-narrative modern dance (with a little contemporary ballet thrown in for good measure) made palatable with bright colors and archetypes.

The questions of narrative in Movin' Out are just as involved as in much contemporary dance. Many of the segments had what might be called narrativelets, much as pop songs tend to have suggestions of narratives rather than fully detailed stories. Characters identified in specific Billy Joel songs carried through the show, at least as icons, although not as fully developed characters. The songs and the dance numbers were tied together in an historical sweep that started in the Fifties and moved on through the Vietnam war and its aftermath. There was a progressive loss on innocence and a dramatic build up in the music and dance.

Suddenly, the Vietnam theme ended, and was replaced with feel good songs and "happy" choreography. The show's creators seem to have painted themselves into a corner and decided to ignore the corner and finish the show on an up note. Since Movin' Out is in some sense a non-narrative show, it doesn't really matter. Maybe we can just decide to be happy and we don't need a reason.

The dancers were all excellent. They showed good, high leaps and confident styling. Just as at the ballet, the higher the jump, the bigger the applause. There was a lot of applause. At times the dancers were the Broadway equivalent of fire salamanders (i.e. both hot and flexible - there was a certain species of dancer who would show up at Hush who were always impeccably dressed and who could dance Salsa with this staccato accenting that played with the rhythms as well as following them - at times the Movin' Out dancers reminded me of these Salsa dancers, especially in some of the numbers early in the show).

If you look at Movin' Out as a dance concert, there was something missing, although even I am at a loss to identify exactly what was missing. The show felt almost like the comic book version of modern dance. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Comics, after all, are a venerable art form, and have more recently evolved into a form known as the graphic novel, a form that retains the pictorial approach of comic books, but in a more serious and sophisticated style. So perhaps the best way to describe Movin' Out is as the graphic novel version of contemporary dance. Movin' Out is certainly not just a simplistic floor show. My hypothesis is that the creators of Movin' Out have found a way to present long-form contemporary dance to an audience that ordinarily would never be interested in such dance. They deserve a lot of credit for this accomplishment.

The bottom line is that if you don't like rock concerts, or you don't like Billy Joel's music, Movin' Out may not be for you. I happen to have grown up with Billy Joel's music and like most of it. I do think that music, even pop music, is often better served when the sound engineers avoid turning the volume up to 11, so in that respect I am probably not exactly the show's target audience. Even so, the volume of the music didn't bother me. If you like Billy Joel's music and you like loud, splashy entertainment, you definitely need to get tickets. If you are somewhere in between, Movin' Out is still worth seeing.

The audience gave the performers a raucous and extended standing ovation at the end of the show. Overall, I think the ovation was deserved.

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