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For my generation, it’s never been “cool” to like Billy Joel music. I always have, he’s a completely original songwriter. To those who say Billy Joel is uncool, I say, how many contemporary pop music writers do you know that have had a successful, long-running Broadway musical based around their compositions?
In my eyes, that makes him cool.
It’s said Twyla Tharp made the call to Joel with the proposition of a musical. And it’s said that Joel had received such offers before and turned them down. Not this time.
It’s amazing how provocative choreography and dance can be; how together they can visually tell a story. Tuesday was opening night of “Movin’ Out” at the Civic Theatre and the performance opened with a bang.
“Movin’ Out” tells the story, through dance and music, of five friendships over two decades – through first loves, marriages, wartime, addictions and breakups – all set to Billy Joel’s music and Twyla Tharp’s choreograpy. Does that description seem schmaltzy? “Movin’ Out” is the furthest thing from it.
What makes it so affecting and unique, as far as musicals go, is that there are no spoken lines and none of the dancers sing. The story is acted out by the dancers while one piano man (the fabulous Darren Holden, who brought the audience to their feet) and an awesome band provide the narrative with songs from Billy Joel’s impressive repertoire.
The show opens with ferocity as the band strikes up with power and volume, leading off with the overture, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and slides into the story’s introduction (“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”) with Brenda (gorgeous, lithe Holly Cruikshank) and Eddie (powerhouse and crowd-pleaser Brendan King), a young couple in a tumultuous relationship.
As the years progress, the relationships develop and change, and Tharp’s choreography reflects that change. Dance numbers range widely, documenting characters’ development from innocent and newly in love to anguished wives left behind during the war and to troubled veterans who return home transformed.
A standout is the character of Judy (Laura Feig) who’s elegy ballet number (to Billy Joel music!) had the audience audibly choked up. Feig was captivating. During one of her toe-shoe numbers, the lighting converged into a single spotlight through which she dreamily weaved en pointe. Other leads include Tony (Tony Gomez, a treat to watch), and James (winsome Sean Maurice Kelly).
The mesmerizing, fantastic ensemble works together with the main cast to move the story along. They have numerous costume changes and are strong supporters rather than background players.
The band is phenomenal and the production does a great job of showcasing the talent of the entire band and also that of pianist/lead vocalist Darren Holden. If you can manage to tear your gaze away from the dancers and look up at the band – there’s a whole lot going on. Holden oozes charisma; he emotes as he sings and he looks down on the characters from his perch (the band is suspended on the catwalks above the stage) like a storyteller.
And Joel’s music works seamlessly like it was written for “Movin’ Out.” What a tribute, then, that Twyla Tharp heard that originality and made that call to Joel.