The piano man
If you go to the Broadway Series’ Movin’ Out for the music, you’ll leave talking about the dancing. This unique show—a dance interpretation of two dozen Billy Joel songs—may attract the musician’s fans, but the music is overshadowed by the brilliant dance numbers of choreographer Twyla Tharp.
This is no ordinary Broadway show. It’s a dancical—a combination of dance and musical—with a thin storyline threading well-known Joel songs together. There is no dialogue, just song blending into song, with the dancers expressing emotions not only in movement, but also in facial expressions. What’s impressive is that these top-notch modern dancers have clear acting abilities, as well.
Though the concept is similar to Mamma Mia!, the implausible musical that showcases ABBA tunes, this production is inspired by better music, more-powerful dancing and a deeper artistic vision. The dancing is not your typical Broadway musical, show-tune dancing. It’s imaginative, thrilling, theatrical, sizzling and thoroughly original.
A full band, led by a Joel-esque singer and piano player, is perched on a catwalk overlooking the stage, giving both the music and the dancing visual exposure. The story, inspired from characters in Joel’s hit songs, follows a group of young Long Islanders who age during the turbulent 1960s and ’70s. The group starts off in the innocence of rock ’n’ roll, is pulled into the Vietnam War and political conflicts, and gets lost through the self-destruction of wounded lives.
It’s eerie to see the show right after the recent election. The themes of war, confusion, division and cynicism reverberating throughout provide a strange juxtaposition to current events. This also makes the battle scenes that open the show’s second half an amazing tour de force, notching up the anger in “Angry Young Man” and “Big Shot.”
Unfortunately, there are some major weaknesses in Movin’ Out. Although Joel is a musical storyteller, the story line with which Tharp links his songs together often feels forced and disjointed. The characters and relationships get confusing, and the messages muddled. And the over-amplified Billy Joel sound gets repetitive and drags the show down, though it’s always fun when a familiar tune starts up.
Movin’ Out is a “best of” compilation that celebrates the sounds of Joel. It’s good for the fan, and weary for the discriminating listener, but overall a wonderful showcase for a brilliant choreographer and awe-inspiring dancers.