If you're into categories, good luck trying to figure out what Movin' Out is. "Rock ballet" and "dance play" are two phrases that have been used, but neither quite describes the work.
It doesn't matter. Just label this one terrific.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp uses Billy Joel's music to propel the story of five friends on Long Island who grow up in the 1960s, get involved in the Vietnam War, fight their way through the aftermath of alienation, and regain their friendship.
For baby boomers, at least, Movin' Out is powerful stuff. We've been there, done that, and have seen the movies, but it has never been represented in quite this way.
The cast consists of a band in full sight, playing on a platform high above the stage, and a company of 12 dancers. Matthew Friedman is excellent as he channels Joel, singing his songs as the dancers interpret the story. There is no spoken dialogue.
I'm not any good at finding the hidden meanings in literature, but it is obvious that the explosive opening number, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," with the entire company dancing, represents the joy of youth facing a world of possibilities.
The second set of numbers, including "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "Movin' Out," shows relationships: James and Judy get engaged, Tony is trying to find love, and Brenda and Eddie are breaking up, which affects each of them in different ways. Eddie, who is stunned that he's been spurned, wallows in his anger. Brenda goes on to reinvent herself ("Uptown Girl").
When James, Tony, and Eddie head off for Vietnam, Movin' Out shifts into a decidedly darker tone, with some deeply moving dance scenes depicting the horror of war ("We Didn't Start the Fire"). James is killed. Eddie is emotionally damaged. Tony loses his ability to love.
The second act takes place after the men return home. Brenda and Tony, who flirted with love before he left for Vietnam, can't find a way to connect. Judy is grief-stricken. And Eddie, who blames himself for James' death, turns to drugs to ease his rage and despair.
Eddie, played by Drew Heflin, is breathtaking. His charisma is palpable from the first time he appears on stage as Brenda's cocky sweetheart. But his descent into an emotional hell and his redemption provide Movin' Out with its most electrifying moments ("Angry Young Man," "Captain Jack"). He tumbles, leaps, break-dances, and moonwalks, using the entire stage to portray the depths of his fury and the heights of his joy. Before the show's end, he owns the audience.
Amanda Kay and John Corsa as Brenda and Tony also have their turns in the spotlight, notably with "Big Shot" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street."
Karolina Blonski and Eric Bourne play Judy and James, who are the most bland of the five friends, perhaps because they are "normal." It is only after James dies that Blonski swipes the spotlight, dancing her grief. She later becomes Eddie's guide through his nightmares.
The show's joyous ending perhaps comes too easily, but because of all the intense emotion that precedes it, the happiness is welcomed with no questions.
Movin' Out is like nothing I've ever seen before. If I had been told ahead of time that it was a ballet-based drama, I might not have gone. I would have missed a mesmerizing experience.
If you're on the fence about this show, I urge you to give it a try.
"Movin' Out" continues in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Shows are at 8 p.m. tonight and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $23 to $61 at the Stranahan box office, 381-8851, or by calling Ticketmaster, 474-1333. Surcharges may be added to the price.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org