MOVIN' OUT conceived, choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, based on songs by Billy Joel (Mirvish). Runs to December 24. See Continuing for details. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Movin' Out is in many ways an ideal show to tour. It doesn't have much of a set. Its two dozen Billy Joel songs - sung live by a singer/piano player and a full band - are familiar to a couple of generations. And its simplistic, sentimental look at working-class American life in the 1960s and 70s should appeal to swaths of undiscerning people, especially in middle America.
Too bad it's not as entertaining as Mamma Mia, another show based on familiar pop tunes. At least that one connected the songs in a campy way with an unpretentious story and rich themes about families.
There's virtually no dialogue in Movin' Out. Director/choreographer Twyla Tharp creates a minimal narrative by linking works in the Joel oeuvre and letting her hard-working dancers work their shapely butts off from one four-minute song to the next.
Somewhere in Long Island, five clean-cut recent high school grads - Brenda and Eddie (from Scenes From An Italian Restaurant), Tony, Judy and James - are falling in and out of love to the sounds of rock 'n' roll when Vietnam comes and takes the three men away. One of them gets killed, the other two return shell-shocked and disillusioned, and eventually everyone comes to terms with their inner pain and life goes on.
The choreography is an athletic mix of ballet and jazz, and it's about as effective as those now defunct sequences at the Oscars. Granted, there are some powerful moments. Eddie's frenzied, crazed movements as a drug-taking grunt are far more watchable than his groan-inducing rocker-boy moves.
But it's telling that in the entire show, only one sequence comes alive dramatically or emotionally. To the sounds of the bittersweet ballad She's Got A Way, Tharp effectively stages two parallel scenes of separated lovers dancing alone, imagining the other and trying to resist carnal temptation.
If the show had reached this level throughout, I wouldn't have been sitting in the theatre hoping to be Movin' Out myself.