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Published:December 13th, 2005 12:05 EST
Movin' Out Has Moved On

Movin' Out Has Moved On

By Maria Grella

When Movin’ Out settled into the Richard Rodger’s Theatre three years ago, no one quite knew what to make of it.  It wasn’t a musical in the traditional sense, yet it was more than just an elaborate dance performance.  With no lines or a single spoken word uttered by any of the characters on stage, the show, nonetheless, made itself a success.  A New York story, told through 26 songs from New York’s favorite musician, Movin’ Out made an impact on the Great White Way.

Set on Long Island in the 1960’s, we are introduced to Tony, James, Judy, Brenda and Eddie.  Not only must they face the pains of growing up, but their youthful innocence becomes harsh reality.  They are soon forced into adulthood as the Vietnam War shatters these young lives, leaving the characters to pick up the pieces.  A small dent in singer/songwriter Billy Joel’s catalog is used to tell the story of these characters, though only one couple is mentioned together in a song.  Twyla Tharp, noted choreographer, combined the storylines and created the dialogue completely through Joel’s lyrics and fluid dance. 

Throughout the performance the focus is completely on the dancers showing their athletic ability and graceful moves, despite the fact that there is a band above their heads the entire show.  The tale is unraveled through classic songs such as “Pressure”, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Keeping The Faith” to fan favorites and obscurities, including “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, “Goodnight Saigon”, and “Summer, Highland Falls”.

Opening to rave reviews on October 24, 2002, Movin’ Out was part of an original concept that proved to be successful, and other producers have noticed.  While dance heavy musicals of the past, such as Fosse and Contact, have gone by the wayside, Movin’ Out secured a formula to keep audiences coming back; known, popular songs set within a dramatic context.  Similar shows have cropped up to cash in on the idea and the term ‘jukebox musicals’ has been coined to describe the shows.  Based on established catalogs, theatre executives clamor to get in on the trend.  Beginning with 2001’s Mamma Mia, which features the songs of Abba, other jukebox musicals include Jersey Boys with the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Lennon (John Lennon’s work),  All Shook Up (Elvis Presley tunes), Good Vibrations set to the Beach Boys and this February, a Johnny Cash production will debut.  Only Mamma Mia and Movin’ Out have been proven successes.

It is understandable that listening to the show is nowhere near as powerful as being at an actual Billy Joel concert; songs to be sung with force and gusto were watered down and vocally expanded to suit the theatre crowd.  Songs like “Angry Young Man” (never fully captured on a Joel disc with the live sound it so richly deserves), and “Big Shot” sounded muted, though Joel’s classical pieces, among them “Reverie”, “Elegy” and “Invention In C Minor”, worked well.  The band, hand picked by Billy, include some of his touring musicians.  Michael Cavanaugh, the show’s ‘Piano Man’, did an exceptional job as the voice of Movin’ Out, though it was unsettling at times to hear another sing Joel’s songs – no one can replace the original.  The performances always ended with the quintessential ode to the Empire State, “New York State Of Mind”.  The band began at the forefront on a movable platform, and remained above the true stars – the dancers – until the closing number.  John Selya, Elizabeth Parkinson, Keith Roberts, and Ashley Tuttle were just a few of the phenomenal dancers who made the show what it was; an experience to be remembered. 

Though Movin’ Out can still be seen in its National Tour, the chance to experience it on Broadway is gone, but not forgotten.  On December 11, 2005, after 3 exciting years and 1,303 performances, Movin’ Out left New York and a legacy.  The ‘dansical’ earned two Tony Awards of its 11 nominations; one for best choreography (Tharp) and the other for best orchestration (Joel and Stuart Malina).  What lies ahead for the creators of Movin’ Out?  Twyla Tharp is at it again, working on another similar project, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” based on the works of Bob Dylan.  Billy Joel, meanwhile, will be heading out on the road as he tours the country supporting his 5 disc set, My Lives