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"The Superfan: Billy Joel"
By: Dan Vila
Dan runs his own Billy Joel web-site (www.BillyJoelFan.com) and has every Billy-related item he can get his hands on, including an autograph marker used by Billy (and his sometime collaborator Richard Joo). Trucker's Daniel Vila spoke with him about trading socks with the "Piano Man."
Why do you like Billy Joel so much?
When did you first meet the "Piano Man" himself?
I understand you had another "Master Class" run-in with him...
Have you ever heard of Attila?
Widely touted in rock critic circles as "the worst album in the history of recorded music," the self-titled release by Attila is actually Billy Joel’s greatest triumph. His late-sixties organ-and-drums duo (with Jon Small) provided for some of the heaviest psychedelic sludge ever committed to vinyl. Their sole LP also features Trucker's official "Best Cover Art Ever," with Joel and Small dressed as Huns, standing in a meat locker. Despite the minimal set-up, each song is an aural apocalypse lathered in organ effects and out-of-control drumming. Attila were in fact so great that Billy now refers to the LP as "shit" and has instituted a "buy and burn" policy for whenever he comes across a copy. Check out the intensity of these lyrics from "Revenge Is Sweet": "I can spit on those who called me names/I'm a phoenix rising from the flames/People laughed at me and said I'd never win/Now I turn around and kick your faces in." Music fans and critics didn't feel the intensity however, and the band’s inevitable fate was finally sealed when Billy started banging Small’s wife, Elizabeth, and eventually married her.
"Let's Leave Billy Joel Alone"
By: Roger Friedman
(October 2nd, 2002)
One of my favorite singers, Billy Joel, has gotten quite a pasting in the press lately. First, the New York Times Magazine decided his music was meaningless and ephemeral, and portrayed him as lonely and desperate to find a date. Then Cindy Adams reported on Sunday that Billy was off the wagon and drinking again, spotted at Nello on Madison Avenue getting snockered in the afternoon.
Well, since I know Billy took rehab seriously, I thought I'd check this out. Indeed, there was more to this than meets the eye. First of all, Nello Balan, the owner of said establishment, likes celebrity plugs in the papers. According to sources, he spotted Billy on Madison Avenue around 4pm - well after Joel had had lunch elsewhere - and pulled him into his place.
"A waiter immediately arrived with a glass of champagne," says a mutual friend. "Then, a bottle. Billy sent the bottle back. And he left. The next thing he knows he's drowning his sorrows in the papers. It's ridiculous."
You know, it is ridiculous. I'm trying to decide why Billy Joel - friendly, affable, never rude, always polite, incredibly talented - has become a celebrity target. I am told he returned to Nello's yesterday and complained about being used for publicity. Right on, Billy.
Joel may not know this, and Nello's patrons may have forgotten as well, but Balan's business partner is a more interesting story than anything to do with Billy Joel. The man in question is Dennis Kozlowski, the wildly self-indulgent, free-spending ex-head of Tyco. When Balan opened his SoHo restaurant last year, Kozlowski was right at his side, living it up and boasting to one and all about his investment. I'll bet the Tyco investors who lost their shirts will now queue up for a free meal and maybe one of those free bottles of champagne that Billy Joel turned down.
As for Billy, he's working on songs that may become a new album. John David Kalodner, the production whiz who restored Aerosmith's glow, has been assigned to the project at Columbia Records. And Joel is feeling more and more confident about "Movin' Out," the Broadway show featuring his songs and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. After a shaky start in Chicago, "Movin' Out" is said to be movin' up to the proper quality level and will surprise everyone on opening night.
"Inspired By The 'Piano Man' - Twyla Tharp's 'Movin' Out' Uses Billy Joel Hits To Portray Society's Shifts From The '60s To The '80s"
By: Iris Fanger
(October 3rd, 2002)
What do you get when you cross a score of beloved songs by Billy Joel with a dance-drenched story? If your name is Twyla Tharp, who conceived, choreographed, and directed "Movin' Out," you hope to get a theatrical hit the size of "Mama Mia!" or "Contact."
The musical "Mama Mia!" based on the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA, is still playing in theatres around the world. "Contact," which also uses existing music, has just ended a two-year run on Broadway and goes on tour again this season.
But don't think the task is easy. "Movin' Out" has been in the works since Ms. Tharp came up with the idea of creating a show to Joel's music and lyrics two years ago.
One of the most well-known and accomplished choreographers who has worked on Broadway, in films, and in TV, as well as in the ballet and modern dance world, Tharp aimed the new show at the commercial theatre rather than the concert dance stage.
Like the "Little Red Hen," she decided to do it herself, at least the writing and choreography. She also found a clutch of producers to back the Tharp-Joel combination with $8 million.
"I've always liked Billy's music," says Ms. Tharp, in a telephone interview from New York.
"I listened to all of Billy's songs and CDs over one weekend. I immediately saw I could read his songs, put them into a context, and make them into an epic."
So she wrote a scenario - weaving in hits like "Uptown Girl," "Just The Way You Are," and "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" - that paralleled both Joel's rise to prominence and the transformation of American society from 1967 to 1987.
This was a period that Tharp believes started "when things were happier, when things were broken and we could fix them," she says. "Then came the Vietnam War, and I think the culture realized that we're broken and we're not going to fix it so easily."
The plot focuses on three young men and the women they love. When the men go off to fight in Vietnam, the relationships change. At final curtain, "we survived for better or worse; we sloughed our way through it," says Tharp.
The modern-dance choreographer was determined to tell the story without the use of dialogue. "What were we doing before language evolved? We were communicating by movement," says Tharp, "so when you can link into a subject where you get substance you're speaking to people in a much more deeply emotional way."
The cast was picked by raiding the ballet and modern dance troupes: Keith Roberts, John Selya, and Ashley Tuttle from American Ballet theatre; Elizabeth Parkinson of the Joffrey Ballet, and Ron De Jesus of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, among others. She also found Michael Cavanaugh, a charismatic young singer-pianist who sounds enough like Joel to be his double. Mr. Cavanaugh sings more than two dozen of Joel's songs while suspended on a balcony above the stage, with a nine-piece orchestra backing him. The lyrics suggest the action but do not form a specific narration.
"Movin' Out" opened in Chicago for a 10-week tryout period last summer, following the path of previous Broadway musicals, notably "The Producers," which proved an instant hit, and "Sweet Smell of Success," which did not. Cavanaugh won rave reviews, even though the critics reception of "Movin' Out" was mixed. He is sure to please Joel fans who throng to see the pop composer's work in the context of a theatrical production. No doubt dance fans will swoon over the caliber of the dance performances.
"What has been unfortunate is that I've been reviewed along the way [to New York], on my first draft. Hello! Nobody said that it was ready to be seen. It never should have been full ticket price and never had an opening night," Tharp says in response to the tepid reviews. But she also notes proudly that each of the 77 performances in Chicago drew a standing ovation.
Working hard in traditional tryout manner, where the cast rehearses a new version during the day but performs the existing material at night, Tharp revised the narrative thrust of the first act - which had caused most of the confusion - by the close of the Chicago run. She says she'll make a few more changes before the October 24th, 2002 New York opening, but "on the hoof" (meaning the cast won't need rehearsal time in the studio to insert the additions).
Does Tharp think she set herself too difficult a challenge? "No, I wouldn't have a writer if I did it over again," says Tharp. "The word 'choreography' means to write with movement."
"Movin' Out": First Preview
By: Liz Smith
(October 6th, 2002)
Talk about a hometown welcome! The first preview of the Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel musical, "Movin' Out," was standing room only and had a crowd dancing in the street. When Twyla and Billy tried to quietly take their seats, the audience gave them a thundering standing ovation. Everyone joined in singing "New York State of Mind," which has become the show's anthem...
"The 'Piano Man' Is In A Long Island State of Mind"
By: AJ Carter
(October 7th, 2002)
Billy Joel's recent concert at Nassau Coliseum is resulting in a long-term benefit for Long Islanders in the form of a first-ever spokesman for local tourism: Joel.
All it took was a trip backstage by the Nassau and Suffolk county executives and a fistful of scripts that, while not exactly on point, were close enough to pique the interest of the Piano Man, who, as we all know, grew up in Hicksville and has houses in Sag Harbor and Oyster Bay.
Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau president Michael Hollander said his group has been trying to find an official spokesman for three years, considering and rejecting the idea of approaching such notables as adopted Long Islander Steven Spielberg and native Long Islander Vinny Testaverde before deciding to go after Joel. Hollander said Joel was a good fit "because he has a long history of being a part of Long Island and wanting to help Long Island, so we're trying to get him to do it for us on that basis."
Unlike Testaverde, Joel has been filling stadiums recently instead of emptying them.
Hollander put together a group to put the squeeze on Joel. Public relations executive Todd Shapiro secured a luxury suite for Joel's coliseum concert, and afterward a delegation including Tom Suozzi and Bob Gaffney went backstage to meet Joel, talk about their request and see Shapiro hand him the potential scripts for radio spots. Hollander did not go. "I didn't think it was a good idea to send a zillion people to do this," he said. "I felt real comfortable, based on the things I've done before with Gaffney and Suozzi, to let them go do it."
Hollander said he was told the response was favorable, and that Joel would get back to them in a couple of weeks.
Here's the update: In an interview with Inside Stories, Joel said he's inclined to do the spots, with modifications to fit his personal style, and even accept Hollander's compensation offer, which was zero.
"I'd be proud to represent Long Island, absolutely," Joel said. "I've maintained that I am a Long Islander, first and foremost."
Even though Joel said he has "mixed feelings about asking more people to come out to the Hamptons for the summer," he understands how important tourism is to the economy. "They do need the business, as well as the rest of Long Island right now, especially in this economy. I don't mind helping out at all."
He said he is hoping people will discover all of Long Island, though not necessarily the same way he is. "I take a motorcycle ride and I try to get myself as lost as I can," he said. "I don't take a map, I just go and I just follow a road...I can spend a day doing that. Of course, I don't have a regular job like most people."
Hollander said the spots will air starting in March on stations as far afield as Florida, California, Canada, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania - and maybe even in New York City, where Joel sees a need, too. "It amazes me how many people there are in New York City who don't know anything about Long Island," he said.
"Billy Joel Is In 'Hog' Heaven"
By: Bill Hoffmann
(October 7th, 2002)
No, this isn't one of the rough-and-tumble Hells Angels roaring through Midtown - it's none other than Billy Joel.
The pop-star looked like a real Uptown Boy as he rode his red, custom-made Harley-Davidson along Madison Avenue yesterday.
Beaming a big smile, Billy launched into his Easy Rider act as he exited the posh Café Nosidam eatery after lunching with pals.
The only thing missing from the "Piano Man's" bike was his off-again, on-again gal-pal, newswoman Trish Bergin, who anchors the show "Inside Edition" on weekends.
Billy's surprise appearance in Manhattan will be a welcome relief to fans who've worried about their hero's "New York State of Mind."
But with recent sold-out concerts and a brand-new Broadway show on the way, it looks like he's a "Big Shot" around town once again.
"Joel's 'Movin' B'way"
Dance Tuner Hot In Previews Amid Weak Week
By: Robert Hofler
(October 8th, 2002)
Could Broadway be looking at another blockbuster with "Movin' Out"? In its first week of previews, the new dance musical from Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp took in $645,921 for eight performances.
Those receipts are about $24,000 more than hot-out-of-Seattle "Hairspray" took in during its first session of eight previews at a comparably sized house.
Despite a rocky ride in Chicago, the very confident "Movin' Out" producers went the TKTS route for only three weekday perfs, pushing their average price ticket up to $73.08, the fifth-highest on Broadway, and about $7 more than a "Hairspray" ducat got during the week of July 22nd, 2002 - July 28th, 2002.
Sans "Movin' Out," Broadway's box office would have signaled a retreat last week, which is unusual for the first session of October.
The overall tally rose only $431,125 - or 3.46% - over the previous session to finish with $12,893,384. Up 5,204, paid attendance came in at 203,635.
Again, most of the uptick came from the addition of the Joel/Tharp show, which sold 8,838 tickets. Although last week's $12.89 million sets a record, easily topping the $10.53 million Broadway produced during this time frame in 2000, paid attendance two years ago was 202,789 for only 21 productions. Now there are 26 shows, and 17 of them went south last week.
Long-running musicals presented a fairly stagnant picture at the box office. Under the top 10, only three made minor moves upward: "Beauty and The Beast" ($481,024), "Into The Woods" ($319,108) and "Les Miserables" ($293,454), which saw an insignificant $654 bump despite the front-page news regarding its March 2003 closing.
"He's Movin' In"
By: Barbara Hoffman
(October 10th, 2002)
When all is danced and sung at "Movin' Out" - the Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel musical - the biggest applause often goes to...Michael Cavanaugh.
Perched on a platform above the stage with the rest of the band, the "Piano Man" plays and sings his way through nearly two hours and two dozen songs.
By curtain time, the crowd is on its feet, swaying to his "New York State of Mind."
"Who is that guy?" they buzz. "He sounds just like Billy Joel!"
Chicago critics called the 29 year-old Midwesterner "phenomenal" - the show, currently in previews, opens here on October 24th, 2002 - but Cavanaugh doesn't like being called a sound-alike.
"That's fine if they think that," he says from rented digs in New Jersey, his voice raspy from the night before.
"But there's already a Billy Joel, and he's amazing - to try to be him is a losing battle."
Cavanaugh's always been a fan. Growing up in the Cleveland suburbs, he had his first piano lesson at 7½, after he was already picking out tunes.
"Play something," the teacher said, and Michael promptly pounded out 'It's Still Rock and Roll To Me' " - the first song, coincidentally, in "Movin' Out."
By 10, Cavanaugh had his own band. At 12 he was playing nightclubs, parents in tow so he could stay out past curfew.
A couple of years ago, he and his band were in Las Vegas covering Joel, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith tunes when Cavanaugh came face-to-face with "The Master."
"I found out about half an hour before we went on [that Joel was coming]," he says. "It completely freaked me out.
"I think the first thing I said to him was 'Mmmuerrere' " - an incoherent mumble.
Since signing on to do the show - a narrative-free ramble through the lives of Brenda and Eddie and their friends through the '60s and Vietnam - he's had the benefit of Joel's tutorial.
"I had a couple of lyrics I was singing wrong - I'd gotten them off the internet," he says.
"And Billy's like, 'Man, I hate to bring it up, but this lyric is different.'"
Since the show came to New York, Cavanaugh says, Joel stops by frequently - both at rehearsals and performances.
But Joel isn't worried about being rendered obsolete.
"The guy singing my material doesn't sing like me," he told The Post's Dan Aquilante.
"He's a lot younger than I am and he's attacking the material in his own way.... He's being true to himself."
Cavanaugh hopes to move on after "Movin' Out" - composing and performing his own songs. But he's not about to forget the man who inspired him.
"I'm a bigger fan than I've ever been. It's amazing," he says, recalling the time he and his wife camped out in the snow for tickets to a "River of Dreams" concert.
"And they weren't even good seats," he says. "I told Billy that and he said, 'You shoulda called me.'
He laughs. "It wasn't so easy back then."
"We're Movin' To Broadway"
By: Elysa Gardner
(October 11th, 2002)
Back in the mid-'70s while working in a loft in downtown Manhattan, a rising choreographer named Twyla Tharp heard an album called "Turnstiles" by a rising singer/songwriter named Billy Joel.
"Like so many people in the world," Tharp recalls, "I thought, 'Huh - this guy can really write a melody.' Then I thought, 'This guy should be doing a show.' And then I thought, 'Well, I should be doing a show.' "
More than 25 years and many successful projects later, Tharp, with Joel's blessing and support, is about to see her dream realized on Broadway. "Movin' Out," a collection of interpretive dances inspired and accompanied by 28 of Joel's songs and compositions, began previews last week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it opens October 24th, 2002.
Having had its world premiere at Chicago's Shubert Theatre in July, "Movin' Out" joins a fall theatre line-up dominated by splashy new musicals based on established works. But Tharp and Joel are reluctant to label their Broadway baby as such.
"I'm hesitant to use the word 'musical,' " Joel says backstage at the Richard Rodgers, sitting beside the woman who conceived, choreographed and directed Movin'. "Twyla had a very strong vision of what I think could be a new genre."
Tharp agrees. "It's not a traditional musical, in that we don't have book scenes or dialogue. ...Without Billy's language, we don't have the arc of the story or the character identification."
"Movin' Out" follows a group of friends, developed from characters in Joel's songs, as they encounter the kind of social and romantic turbulence that defined the baby-boom generation. Cuts and other changes have been made since Chicago, but the basic premise remains.
Michael Cavanaugh, a young singer and pianist whom Joel discovered performing in Las Vegas, and a live band deliver Joel's material from a platform above the stage as the hoofers flesh out a plot that Tharp extrapolated from tunes such as "Goodnight Saigon," "Prelude/Angry Young Man," "James," and "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."
"When I met Billy, I said I had a simple question. I wanted to know if Brenda and Eddie talked to each other 20 years later," says Tharp, alluding to the ill-fated couple in Scenes. "He said, 'I don't know — let's see.' "A few days later, after listening to all of Joel's albums, Tharp had outlined a story that used his songs chronologically, involving three pals, a love triangle and the Vietnam War.
"The show begins with what I call post-World War II optimism," Tharp says. "Then (Vietnam) came, and with it, destruction and divisions in our culture that we could no longer mend. That essentially is what Act 1 is about, and I heard it very clearly in the string of Billy's music. He's writing about specific individuals in graphic detail, which is one of the things that makes him such a good storyteller. But there is a bigger context to his lyrics that he's not always given credit for."
When asked how Joel initially reacted to her take on his work, Tharp smiles. "Can I tell the truth?" she asks the rock-star, who nods.
"He wept. That was what I needed, because I wanted to convey emotion visually the way his songs do."
Joel adds that Tharp's choreography gave him new insights into those songs. "It was like seeing your kid get married. All of a sudden I was finding out different things about my children through action and movement. And I was very moved by it."
The progressive-dance icon and the pop hero from Long Island may in theory make an unlikely mutual-admiration society. But in person, Tharp, spry and hyper-animated at 61, and a nattily attired Joel, 53, reveal an easy rapport and a profound appreciation for each other's craft. "My mother was a concert pianist, and I was winning piano contests when I was 4 years-old," Tharp points out.
No Male Dancers 'Prancing Around'
Joel admits that his love of dance, particularly ballet, came later in life. "Like a lot of people, I had this picture in my head of a bunch of male dancers prancing around. But there's a lot of athleticism in this show. It's not pretty in the stereotypical sense of, say, Swan Lake. (Tharp) really picked up on things from my own experience, things most guys who grew up in New York or on Long Island can relate to. You see these three buddies hitting each other, playing these stupid games, just like we used to do."
Tharp chuckles. "Listen," she tells Joel, "I haven't gone to a gym for the last 15 years for nothing."
She wasn't the first person to approach him about a stage venture. "I've always loved theatre, and I've always been intrigued by doing a Broadway show," he says. "But people would send me scripts that were really cornball. I'd get stuff like the "Piano Man," with this clichéd story built around a guy in a piano bar.
"I was skeptical at first when Twyla said she wanted to show me some things, but she proved to me that my music can have a life beyond pop music."
Not that pop music has been Joel's primary focus lately anyway. His last studio album as a rock artist was 1993's "River of Dreams"; since then he has composed classical instrumental music, some of which is featured in "Movin' Out."
Last June, Joel's personal problems took the spotlight when a drinking binge landed him in Connecticut's Silver Hill Hospital for 10 days.
Whetting His Musical Appetite
Today, a sober and trimmed-down Joel is eager to reassure fans that his physical and creative health are sound. "I feel great. A lot of people may be under the assumption I'm not writing, but that's not true. I write all the time, even if I don't report it to everybody."
Having recently toured with Elton John, who provided music for the Broadway hits "The Lion King" and "Aida," Joel says he wouldn't rule out writing an original musical in the future. "I've been working on all sorts of fragments and themes and ideas that I could put to use for a project like that."
For now, though, Joel is channeling his musical energy into "Movin' Out." Several members of his touring family have joined him, including sound designer Brian Ruggles and guitarist Tommy Byrnes, who is leading the show's band, a posse of rock veterans.
"Not to denigrate Broadway musicians, but I wanted some road dogs - guys who had been out doing rock and roll for a long, long time," Joel says. "So none of the songs sound radically different. But I hope people won't come expecting to hear an exact replication of the way Billy Joel does songs, because it isn't that."
What "Movin' Out" is, Joel and Tharp hope, will defy preconceived notions about the disparities between their art and their audiences.
"I assume that anyone familiar with Twyla's work or my work has an open mind to begin with," Joel says. "We want to go beyond that, to reach people who may not be aficionados of what either of us do but simply want to see a good show.
"Let them figure out what it is - and let them enjoy it."
Billy Joel Movin' Out of Hamptons - To A Town Known As Oyster Bay, Long Island
(October 15th, 2002)
...Billy Joel walked away from the deposit he put down on the house off Further Lane. He says he intends to keep only one small house in the Hamptons, and by the end of next year he will live in Oyster Bay full-time, and only visit here ocassionally. He told pals that he's putting off his New York apartment search for another year as well. His "Face 2 Face" Tour with Elton John continues to be a sell-out and is racking up some of the biggest attendance figures in the arena business...
"Billy Joel's Movin' On"
By: Danielle Reed
(October 18th, 2002)
A Manhattan penthouse that singer Billy Joel looked at - and looked at and looked at - remains on the market for $6.8 million, now that the "Piano Man's" decided against purchasing the East Side apartment. Mr. Joel, who also recently backed out of a deal in the Hamptons, leaving about a $2 million deposit on the table, had "brought everybody by to see the place," says listing agent Patricia Cliff, of the Corcoran Group. "The contracts were ready," just not signed. (A spokeswoman for Mr. Joel confirmed he looked at, but didn't purchase the apartment.) Of course, Mr. Joel hasn't been the only tire-kicker on this property - the apartment's been on the market for more than a year, starting out with an asking price of $7.9 million. The corporate buyers who used to snap up apartments like this in the pre-Enron days are "just hiding under a rock right now," says Ms. Cliff. The four-bedroom, 3,664-square-foot apartment has four terraces, two balconies and views in every direction. It has a 55-foot-long living room and marble bathrooms with gold faucets.
"Seeing His 'Kids' All Grown Up"
By: Glenn Gamboa
(October 20th, 2002)
Billy Joel has always thought of his songs as children.
He was proud when his sweet kid "New York State of Mind" started hanging out with Tony Bennett, a collaboration that earned both Bennett and Joel a Grammy nomination. Now that two dozen more of his kids are, well, "Movin' Out" to Broadway for a Twyla Tharp dance spectacular, Joel says it's an unexpected thrill.
"It's Twyla's vision, and you really can't argue with someone else's vision, especially with someone like her, because she is so passionate," Joel says. "The best thing you can do is get out of the way. I saw it in New York at the first of the previews, and I loved it. But a part of me again was saying, 'How objective can you be, Bill, these [songs] are your kids, and they're not in your house any more, they're in somebody else's.' They're doing their thing, and they're independent from me."
Seeing his songs in this new setting has even made him appreciate them more. "I've thought 'Just The Way You Are' is clichéd," Joel says. "But the way the piece is presented, the way she saw the romance in that piece, I see it differently."
"Captain Jack" has grown in a similar way. "It could've been a cartoon if, say, she had the song re-enacted by the members of the Hicksville Marching Band or something," he says. "The way she's done it, it becomes something else entirely."
The whole experience has led Joel to consider doing a Broadway musical of his own.
"I've been developing a story in my head," he says, adding that he's interested to see how people react to "Movin' Out" before he makes his decision. "People have always asked me to write for movies or musicals, and I've stayed away because it was always somebody else's idea. It's always adding another layer to someone else's painting. I want it to be my painting. I'm developing a story. It could be for Broadway, because one thing I've learned from this is that my songs live very well in a theatre environment. It wouldn't be all that strange. Even the reviews that haven't liked the show have said good things about the music; they're sort of bulletproof."
"Saying It With Song"
Twyla Tharp's Broadway Dance Show Lets Billy Joel's Music Speak for Itself
By: Sylviane Gold
(October 20th, 2002)
'Angels...don't... talk." Twyla Tharp lets each word rest in the air for a moment, as if it were a dancer in mid-leap. She is sitting in a midtown office in a white shirt, jeans and sneakers - her work uniform - explaining why the only words in "Movin' Out," her new Broadway show, come from Billy Joel's songs.
"You go into a special realm when you do great dancing," she says. "Words are not spoken there."
So Brenda and Eddie, Anthony and James and the other Long Islanders she has plucked from 30 years of Billy Joel albums are played by powerhouse dancers - the "angels" who have been working with Tharp for years - rather than a cast of Broadway singer-dancer-actor types. The song lyrics are delivered by pianist Michael Cavanaugh, fronting an onstage rock band. It's not that Tharp underestimates the power of speech. "Talking is how you communicate with people," she says. "But it's also the easiest way to lie."
Dance is a language that doesn't lie, and for four decades, Tharp has been using it to carve out a unique place in American culture. As an upstart dancer-choreographer in the '60s, she cheerfully challenged even avant-garde conventions. In the '70s, she let pop-music - Fats Waller and the Beach Boys, among others - invade the sacred groves of modern dance. With the '80s, she dissolved her successful troupe to concentrate on working with ballet companies. Came the '90s she was choreographing in-depth explorations of the music of Brahms and Beethoven. And now, she's used the people and themes she found in Joel's music to construct a two-act, dialogue-free tale of love and war.
It isn't her first time trying to stretch the boundaries of the dance circuit. Tharp presented two of her works, "When We Were Very Young" and "The Catherine Wheel," at Broadway theatres. She embraced television, winning two Emmys. She choreographed movies, among them "Hair," "Amadeus" and "White Nights." And she directed and choreographed the 1985 Broadway production of the classic film musical "Singin' In The Rain." But this time, she wanted to do a Broadway show her way. "What I wanted to do was tell a story that would require being told in movement," she says. "In other words, violence and sex - this is where I can trump language."
Violence and sex may not be the first things that come to mind when surveying the Tharp career - she is best known for freewheeling romps, such as "Deuce Coupe" and "Push Comes To Shove," and brainy, complex constructions such as "The Beethoven Seventh." But she maintains that violence and sex - at least in subliminal form - are at the heart of everything she does, even if "it's not out-and-out kill and out-and-out fornication."
In "Movin' Out," which opens Thursday at the Richard Rodgers theatre, it is out-and-out kill - there's an extended battle sequence. And there are some intensely sexual duets that will probably surprise even the most knowledgeable of her fans. The biggest surprise for the dance audience, however, will be that "Movin' Out" has a story, just like most Broadway musicals. It follows three guys from Hicksville as they leave high school, get drafted and work out their relationships with two women left behind. And it also tracks American society as it struggles through the Vietnam War period and beyond.
Tharp sees the conflict in and over Vietnam as the culmination of America's can-do, post-World War II ethic: "If things were broken, we fixed it," she says. "That's how we were. That's the nation we were. And then the war came, and it divided this country." She could hear the change in the songs, which she listened to in chronological order. "In Billy's early music," she says, "there's a lot of sweetness. It has an innocence about it. And the war takes that away."
She was not the first person to suggest to Joel that his music could be the basis for a Broadway show. "A lot of times," he says, "I was sent books or scripts that seemed contrived, or cornball. I didn't think it was a good idea to cobble my songs together and try to create a forced scenario." But he wasn't averse to the possibility of bringing his creation to the stage in some way. He cites Broadway show tunes among his influences as a songwriter, and he was, he says, "kind of writing little musicals when I was writing albums. It's not that much of a stretch for me to perceive these pieces done as theatre."
When Tharp approached him with her idea of knitting the songs into a dance musical that would take his characters into the '70s, '80s and '90s, he was intrigued. They were, he says, based on real people, "and I never knew what happened to them after they left high school. I didn't stay in touch with Brenda and Eddie and Anthony and the others. So for me, this is sort of the end of the story." And he didn't mind leaving that ending up to Tharp: "The best thing to do with someone who has a vision," he says, "is get out of the way. The songs are like my kids, but they don't need to live in my house any more. They're living in Twyla's house. The music is all grown up and living its own life."
She tackled the songs, she says, as if she were an archaeologist using shards to reconstruct first a pot, then a village and finally a culture. "I made a point of learning nothing about Billy's life," she says. "This is not about getting a picture of his inner life." She looked instead to the "Iliad," with its detailed picture of men at war; she read Vietnam novels and looked at Vietnam movies and studied documentaries and contemporary footage from the period. "If you do your research well, you come out feeling people walked at a different speed," she says.
She knew she would have to have more than one protagonist, because one dancer couldn't carry a full-length show. She felt that one of the deepest currents in Joel's music was its depiction of the bond between friends. So in addition to sending Eddie and Tony off to war, she made them two points of a triangle. She makes no apologies for her timeworn solutions: "I am not a playwright," she says, "but it seems to me that there are, in essence, very few stories, and you have to recognize what your tale is."
But constructing a full-length dance show is not just a matter of figuring out which plot you're going to borrow. Tharp compares it to doing an acrostic puzzle. "Movin' Out" had to be paced to allow the dancers to catch their breath. She had to vary the structure to include solos, duets and ensemble passages. She needed the variety of big scenes and intimate ones. She had to integrate the songs, with their internal rhythms and lyrics, into the overall design. She had to decide just how much of the real, mundane world would intrude on the stage ("Ultimately, what we're doing here is dancing. We're not reconstructing a battle"). And within all those restrictions, she had to tell the story.
Once the acrostic was solved, she had to fit the company into it. She prepared the cast (led by John Selya, Keith Roberts, Elizabeth Parkinson and Ashley Tuttle) the way a stage or film director might, with research into the period and the characters. "We got all the Hicksville High School yearbooks and traced through where these characters would have been in what years," she says. "I brought in a Green Beret. We had an M-16 in the room, and the dancers learned to take it apart. They took instruction in night drills. Detail is all in acting. And in dancing."
When the show tried out in Chicago this past summer, critics and audiences made it clear to her that there were too many details. They were confused, and, looking back, Tharp thinks she knows why. "I love appendixes and footnotes and sidebars," she says. "I love them." She shakes her head. "Not in the theatre. Not when you already have two principal characters. Get rid of all the sidebars. I don't care how much you love this. Cut it. Gotta cut it."
Dance, she says, "works best if you're not too literal with it, if you leave enough room so people can write their own story on top of your story. You've got to put in detail in order to give it a tangible place - you can't get to the cosmic without the specific. But you must not become so literal with the information that it puts a wall between what you're trying to communicate and the audience."
If the New York theatre critics don't quite connect with her efforts, it won't be the first time. While "Singin' In The Rain" ran for 367 performances, it was not exactly a critical success. One of the problems, Tharp says, is that the show's writers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, had also written the film, and they were unwilling to tamper with dialogue that had worked well once before.
"This time around," Tharp says dryly, "there were no writers." But even without pesky collaborators, there are plenty of pitfalls for a Broadway show - especially one that can't be pigeon-holed. And Tharp could easily have taken her Billy Joel idea to a ballet company, secure in the knowledge that "Movin' Out" would live in the repertory for years. Why take the risks of a commercial production on Broadway?
"Billy has a large audience," she says, dead-pan. "Who wants to turn anyone away?"
"Twyla Tharp Consults Billy Joel"
By: Jean H. Lee
(October 23rd, 2002)
Twyla Tharp has always had an iconoclast's relationship with music. She has paired ballet with the Beach Boys and modern dance with Thelonious Monk, and has even staged her dances to silence.
But for her latest work, the choreographer turned to good old rock and roll, picking the quintessential Long Island boy-turned-rocker: Billy Joel.
Part ballet, part rock concert, part theatre, "Movin' Out" tells the tale - through dance and 28 Joel songs - of five friends growing up in suburbia under the shadow of the Vietnam War.
Tharp has an agenda: Lure them to Broadway with Billy, but wow them with the dance.
The cast boasts some of the brightest stars in dance: Ashley Tuttle, John Selya and Keith Roberts, who danced with the American Ballet Theatre; Elizabeth Parkinson, a former Joffrey Ballet principal; and Benjamin G. Bowman, who spent seven years with the New York City Ballet.
Singer Michael Cavanaugh is the piano man who narrates their story from a perch high above the stage, backed up by a nine-piece band.
Unlike other musicals Tharp has choreographed - the movies "Hair," "Amadeus" and "Ragtime," and the Broadway show "Singin' In The Rain" - no one breaks out into song in "Movin' Out," except Cavanaugh. The story is carried in the dance and in the lyrics of such familiar Joel standards as "Just The Way You Are," "This Night" and "Big Shot."
"The steps here are the text; they are the dialogue," Tharp explains over an early dinner at a pub not far from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where "Movin' Out" opened Thursday.
When "Movin' Out" opened in Chicago earlier this year, theatre critics gave the production mixed reviews, complaining about the lack of a story. Tharp has since reworked much of the first act to clarify the narrative. And she's determined to get audiences to think differently about dance and theatre.
"It's theatre, it's dance, it's music. I think it's interesting for people to be given these choices," she says.
The collaboration between Tharp and Joel seems an odd one. Tharp made her name creating ballets - for the Joffrey, the ABT and the Royal Ballet, among others - that ripple with an edge of modernism and intelligence. Joel is a sentimentalist; no rocker wears his heart on his sleeve quite like Joel.
It was Tharp's son and chief production associate, Jesse Huot, who suggested rock, she recalls. Joel emerged as the most obvious choice. Tharp is 61 and her son is 31, yet both "grew up" on Joel. Since cutting his first single in 1972, he's done everything from love songs to rock to even a classical album, "Fantasies & Delusions," released last year.
After getting Joel's approval for the project, Tharp mined his work and life. She used the wistful 1977 song "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" to set the stage, tweaking the year from 1975 to 1965 but keeping the setting the same: Joel's own hometown, Hicksville, Long Island.
She also borrowed the song's main characters, high school sweethearts Brenda and Eddie - "the king and the queen of the prom riding around with the car top down."
After studying yearbooks from Joel's own high school years, she and costume designer Suzy Benzinger dressed the guys in jeans and sneakers, the girls in Keds and clam diggers; the cheerleaders' white-and-orange ensembles come straight from Hicksville High.
While drafting the story, Tharp went back to Joel with a question: What happened to Brenda and Eddie?
His answer was a passel of his songs. Tharp spent a weekend with the CDs and eventually came up with this simple story: Brenda and Eddie split up while their friends James and Judy tie the knot. Brenda eventually falls in love with Eddie's best friend, Tony, a romance interrupted by the Vietnam War. The friends spend the second act rebuilding their postwar lives.
The show's title was Joel's idea and it carries a double meaning: It refers to the restlessness of small-town teens yearning for something larger in life and it also refers to the draft.
America's baby boomers came of age during the Vietnam War and grew into adulthood in its aftermath. Joel wrote "Prelude/Angry Young Man" in 1976 based on an acquaintance who was a Vietnam vet, Tharp notes. She herself choreographed "Hair" in 1978, just a few years after the war's end.
Tharp praises the dancers for helping her mold the characters, from Tuttle's delicate Judy, often shod in toe shoes rather than sneakers, to Selya's burly Eddie, the former football star in sweats.
She mixed ballet with modern gestures - high fives, even some breakdancing. "It was finding the right movement that would show the righteous rage of these men, finding that movement that would dramatically give you that narrative," Tharp says.
She also confesses that she stole freely from her own canon of choreography for "Movin' Out." A bar scene in Saigon, for example, harks back to "Re-moves," performed 36 years ago. And some of the lifts - particularly during the military scenes - come straight from "Hair."
"Movin' Out," she says, is a look back at more than just the Vietnam era.
"The score represents 25 years of Billy's work," she says, "and this evening represents at least that much of mine."
"'Movin' Out' Star Seeks Recognition"
By: Justin Glanville
(October 23rd, 2002)
His singing voice sounds eerily like Billy Joel's - a weary tenor, ragged in the higher registers. His piano playing is almost as splashy as the "Piano Man's."
And six nights a week, he performs more than 20 of Joel's songs in "Movin' Out," the new Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
He's not Joel, though. His name is Michael Cavanaugh. And he'd like people to remember that.
"I don't want to just be known as 'the Billy Joel guy,'" Cavanaugh says. "That's certainly no offense to Billy, because Billy's my favorite. But there already is a Billy."
You wouldn't confuse him for Joel based on appearance alone. Cavanaugh is tall, light-haired and a good two decades younger than the diminutive Joel, whose hair is dark and graying.
"Since age 7, the guy's been my musical hero as a performer and a writer," Cavanaugh says.
"But I never wanted to be his imitator. I'm just singing his songs, and obviously I'll phrase things the way he does - that's the way I've always heard it, so that's the way it's going to come out."
Two years ago, Cavanaugh was supporting his wife and 6 year-old son as a bar pianist in New York-New York, a Manhattan-themed casino in Las Vegas. Last February, his manager dropped by the bar, unannounced, with a famous client: the "Piano Man" himself.
Joel recalls being impressed by Cavanaugh's act. "He had really good musicianship, he could play a song at the drop of a hat, he had energy, he had pipes," Joel says.
He wasn't specifically looking for someone to sing his songs in "Movin' Out" - Tharp ultimately made all the casting decisions herself. But one of Joel's associates, who was also at New York-New York that night, recommended that Tharp audition Cavanaugh for the show.
The audition, combined with Joel's endorsement, was enough to land Cavanaugh the job.
Since then, Cavanaugh's professional relationship with Joel has extended past the boundaries of the musical. On the final night of Joel's recent concert tour with Elton John, Cavanaugh joined his hero on stage at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum to sing and play one song: "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," of course.
Joel started the song himself, but after the first verse he surrendered the keyboard to Cavanaugh, who played and belted the lyrics with conviction. Joel faded into the background, shaking a tambourine and dancing with a back-up singer.
"I was nervous about how the crowd would react, because they paid to see Billy," says Cavanaugh. "But they knew it was just for one song, and they seemed to enjoy it, so that made me feel great."
The crowd roared its approval - standing, clapping, hollering, cheering him on.
Audiences have been responding with equal enthusiasm to Cavanaugh's performances in "Movin' Out." At a recent performance, his bow received easily the most calamitous applause of the evening.
Besides cheering his fiery performances of Joel's songs, audiences seem to respond to his stamina.
The two-hour "Movin' Out," which follows four friends from high school in the 1960s to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, has practically no dialogue: It is almsot entirely singing and dancing.
From the bubble-gum-and-bobby-socks nostalgia of the first act through the much darker second act - in which the main characters lose themselves in a haze of drinking and casual sex - Cavanaugh's energy never seems to flag. He growls his way through "Shameless," croons prettily on "She's Got A Way" and tosses off the devilishly hard piano passages in "Prelude/Angry Young Man" with apparent ease.
"People ask me if I would consider acting, and I guess I would, but my main love is performing music," he says.
Cavanaugh has nine months left on his "Movin' Out" contract; if the show is a hit, he will stay with it at least that long. After that, he plans to compose original music and perhaps perform his songs - which he describes as influenced primarily by Joel and the Beatles - in night-clubs around New York.
But he worries that fans will think, "nothing but Billy Joel," he says.
Joel agrees that that's a valid concern. "It's hard," Joel says. "He's going to get that Billy Joel sound-alike thing, all the material is Billy Joel material. And if the show is a hit, is that a good thing for him or not? Who knows? But it could also be a star-maker vehicle.
"I think he's a talented writer. He's more of an old-school songwriter in that he uses real chords, he plays a real instrument and he harkens back to another era."
Cavanaugh has made some contacts at Sony, because the record company is doing the show's cast album. "They're great, they've been really nice and very complimentary," he says, before imposing a reality check.
"But then again, I have a deal with them singing Billy Joel songs, and that's the only deal I have. So we'll see."
By: Barbara Hoffman
(October 24th, 2002)
She's been called "the dance world's brainiest brat." Billy Joel says she's "the most driven person I've ever worked with." The other day - in a conversation peppered with references to Proust, Mozart and genetic research - Twyla Tharp showed both sides.
Days before tonight's Broadway opening of "Movin' Out" - Tharp and Joel's $8.5 million baby - she ordered roast chicken and sat at a table in a Midtown restaurant, scribbling notes. Small, silvery-haired and bespectacled, she looked like a grown-up "Harriet The Spy."
"I don't like downtime," Tharp says. She works, she goes to the gym, she's writing another book.
"I've missed two deadlines now," she says, "so I feel like a real writer."
She also feels embattled, especially after the show's rocky and well-publicized tryout in Chicago.
"There's no way to be ready for vitriol," she tells The Post about comments like "stupefyingly cliched" and "crazily uneven."
"We were performing one show at night and rehearsing another during the day," she says. "It was very difficult for the dancers."
It was just as hard, her dancers say, for the 61 year-old choreographer.
"You know that expression, 'Eat, sleep and drink what you're doing?' Well, that's her," says star dancer Elizabeth Parkinson.
Tharp knows a little something about dedication. She took dance, piano, violin, viola and German lessons by the time she was 6, but she always wanted to be a dancer, and then some.
As she wrote in her autobiography: "I had always seen myself as a star - I wanted to be a galaxy."
She danced through two broken marriages, love affairs (with Mikhail Baryshnikov and David Byrne) and all nine months of a pregnancy.
The day after she gave birth, she did plies - "just to be sure that I'd never resent my son for interfering with my career."
He didn't. In fact, Tharp credits her son - 31 year-old Jesse Huot, the general manager of her dance troupe - with suggesting she make a musical to Joel's music.
He also got her through the Chicago debacle.
"What he did was to scientifically apply every single review and make a grid," Tharp says. "When we saw more than two or three critics saying the same thing we said, 'Let's look at this.'"
So she redid the prologue and simplified the plot, which follows Brenda and Eddie and their friends through the '60s, Vietnam and its aftermath.
Now it's up to the critics, many of whom savaged her last Broadway effort, 1985's "Singin' In The Rain."
Clearly, Tharp doesn't always get what she wants. Not even at lunch - when her roast chicken arrives as roast beef.
"This doesn't look like roast chicken to me," she says. The waitress demurs, and Tharp turns to her publicist, a strong, tall silent type she's nicknamed Bubbles.
"Bubbles, does this look like roast chicken to you?"
He shakes his head and the waitress takes the plate away.
Just then Tharp breaks into song: "There's no business, like show business, like no business I know!"
And for the first time that day, she smiles.
"'Movin' Out' Is Movin' In To B'Way"
By: David Hinckley
(October 24th, 2002)
"A lot of great moments in American music," Billy Joel muses, "have come when someone smooshed together a couple of things that no one thought of putting together before."
Meet "Movin' Out," which opens tonight at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and might be summarized like this: Twyla Tharp has fused 30 years of Joel's music into a two-hour tale of youth, heartbreak, tragedy, pain, reconciliation and redemption, focused on the lives of several high school friends and told entirely through dance.
"We called it a musical first," says Tharp. "But that was a mistake. It seems to be a new form no one has found a name for."
The show began simply enough. Tharp, who says she's listened to Joel's music for many years, outlined her idea to him and asked for his music. He said yes.
"I've always thought about a stage show," he says, "because my songs are about characters in a specific time and place." But after that first song, he adds, they often went their own way. He didn't realize Anthony of the song "Movin' Out" showed up years later in "Shameless," he says, until Tharp pointed it out.
"I was too close," he says. "When Twyla found these guys again, it was like a reunion."
Tony is one of the show's protagonists, along with Brenda and Eddie ("Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"), Judy ("Why Judy Why") and James ("James"). But Virginia of "Catholic girls start much too late" fame didn't make the cut, and Joel admits he was at first "a little disappointed" about that.
"Hey, she was a big part of my life," he says, laughing, but adds that he sees why she didn't include it.
"I thought about her," Tharp says. "There just wasn't room."
It took extensive cutting, she notes, to whittle Joel's catalogue down to two dozen songs that tell the tale and showcase the styles in which he has written. "Without that range," she says, "you could never sustain an evening."
"I grew up on everything from classical to jazz and rock," Joel says. "So I was always conscious of elements of rhythm and syncopation. That's what makes composition interesting."
Joel says he's also aware that, despite recent hits like "Rent," rock and roll has a mixed record on theatrical stages. "The music had to be authentic," he says. "I didn't want 'Goodnight Saigon' to sound like it was 'Tonight' from 'West Side Story.'"
So far, the show has been a hit with audiences, despite mixed reviews for its Chicago tryout.
"Some of the negatives in the reviews, Twyla and I agreed with," says Joel. "It needed some work and we did it. That's what out-of-town is for."
The challenge, they say, is to make a unique fusion succeed. "We want to appeal to an audience beyond core Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp fans," Joel says. "We think we do."
Joel was in the news earlier this year for postponing a series of shows with Elton John and doing a stint in rehab. He says he's still baffled at how much attention that drew, but says he now feels "just fine" and is writing both pop and classical music.
"The big thing to me is that I'm doing it," he says. "I'm working on a lot of things I like, and it's just a matter of time before one of them becomes a project."
"Scenes From A New York Theatre: Tharp and Joel's 'Movin' Out' Opens On Broadway"
By: Robert Simonson
(October 24th, 2002)
"Movin' Out," the new musical collaboration between pop legend Billy Joel and choreographer Twyla Tharp - firing up audiences and the box office - will officially open at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre October 24th, 2002, following previews since September 30th, 2002.
The bookless show moves seamlessly from Billy Joel hit to Billy Joel hit, using the lyrics and Tharp's rigorous, demanding choreography to trace a tale about five friends and lovers across three decades. The story follows the travails of Brenda, Eddie and Tony, names familiar to any owner of Joel's breakthrough 1977 album, "The Stranger."
As the lyrics of Joel's anthemic song "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" go, "Brenda and Eddie/Were the popular steadies/And the King and the Queen of the prom/Riding around with the car top down/And the radio on." In the tune, the couple gets married, hits the skids and breaks up (all of which happens in the first 10 minutes of "Movin' Out").
The musical drafts the character of Tony from "Movin' Out," as in "Anthony works in a grocery store/Saving his pennies for someday." After leaving Eddie, Brenda hooks up with Tony. Meanwhile, two other characters from Joel songs, James and Judy, fall in love and get married. All is relatively sunny until the Vietnam War drafts all three men, sending back only two, and casting the group of friends into emotional and psychological turmoil.
The piece is without question the most dance-heavy show currently playing on Broadway, causing many viewers to label it a ballet, albeit an extremely accessible one. There is no dialogue and all the songs are performed by pianist, singer and Joel sound-alike Michael Cavanaugh, who sings non-stop and heads an on-stage band during the show.
The musical's songlist is a collection of pre-existing Joel songs which make up the narrative's score. "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" functions as a sort of overture, introducing the characters. The story kicks off with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." Among the other selected tunes are such monster Joel hits as "We Didn't Start The Fire," "Big Shot," "Uptown Girl" and "Just The Way You Are," as well as more obscure early work like "James," "Summer, Highland Falls," and "Prelude/Angry Young Man."
Speaking of the impetus behind the project, Tharp told Playbill On-Line, "I've known Billy's music since it was released. I've known all the albums as they've come out, and I've not only listened to them, but I've danced around to his music in the studio. But it was only recently that I began to think trying to find a coherent arc that would help place it all in a single dramatic spine."
When asked about how she matched her movements to Joel's songs, Tharp observed: "Some of the time is was about finding movements that would be appropriate for the music, but that's because the music was appropriate for the moment and the characters. For example, 'Prelude/Angry Young Man,' which opens the second act, is actually a song about a Vietnam vet and so therefore is exactly what we're doing, so everyone's in the same boat. Then there are other songs where I don't run exactly parallel to what Billy's intending in the song, for example 'She's Got A Way,' which is a beautiful ballad. We have an essence of romantic love in the way we portray it, but it has a sourness to it, again because of the corrosion of the war. There I was seeking to express and make clear that sense of things, rather than to be illustrative of Billy's music."
Tharp continued, "We kind of shift gears in the second act and much of it does become interior monologue as opposed to plot. It also shifts decades so we move from a more 'fable, fairy tale-esque, once-upon-a-time-long ago' feeling to something that's a little closer to us... The first act up until the war sequences deals with a sort of optimism, the attitude in America that we can fix anything, a kind of frontier spirit.... Act Two becomes about just survival."
The cast, all highly experienced dancers, includes Elizabeth Parkinson as Brenda, John Selya as Eddie, Keith Roberts as Tony, Benjamin G. Bowman as James and Ashley Tuttle as Judy. The cast of 27 is completed by Scott Wise, Andrew Allagree, Mark Arvin, Aliane Baquerot, Alexander Brady, Holly Cruikshank, Ron De Jesus, Melissa Downey, Pascale Faye, Scott Fowler, David Gomez, Meg Paul, Laurie Kanyok, William Marrié, Rod McCune, Jill Nicklaus, Rika Okamoto, Karine Plantadit Bageot, Lawrence Rabson, Dana Stackpole and John J. Todd.
"Movin' Out" had a tryout at Chicago's Shubert Theatre this past summer, a run that was occasioned by some mixed reviews and a lot of show doctoring by Tharp.
The Tribune critic, Michael Phillips, was invited back in last August and published a sort of re-review on August 22nd, 2002, which included comments by Tharp. "The guiding principle was this," said Tharp. "If it's confusing, cut it out." According to the article (which a show spokesman confirmed was accurate), the number "I Go To Extremes," which had followed "Movin' Out" in the opening sequence, was cut. The latter number, which once featured Keith Roberts and a bevy of females, now involves the male leads.
Designers are Santo Loquasto (sets), Suzy Benzinger (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting) and Brian Ruggles and Peter Fitzgerald (sound).
Stuart Malina is the music director on the venture.
Matinees of "Movin' Out" will feature different leads and a different singer than will the evening performances.
On Wednesday and Saturday matinees, Brenda and Eddie will be played by Holly Cruikshank and William Marrié, while David Gomez will be Tony, Dana Stackpole is Judy and Wade Preston is on vocals.
At all performances, Scott Wise will play Sergeant O'Leary and the Drill Sergeant, and Benjamin G. Bowman will portray James.
The shifting line-up, which is detailed in the show's program, was no doubt devised to afford the lead performers a break from the physical workout provided by Twyla Tharp's choreography.
During evening shows, Cruikshank and Gomez are part of the ensemble. Marrié and Stackpole are swings.
By: Charles Isherwood
(October 24th, 2002)
Billy Joel fans will have a great time getting lost in the music at the new Twyla Tharp musical "Movin' Out," while balletomanes can get lost in the absolutely phenomenal dancing. Audiences in neither camp might just get lost, unfortunately, since this adventurous new Broadway show, while offering plentiful moments of pleasure, doesn't quite evolve into the seamless mixture of music, dance and narrative that it sets out to be.
The show is already drawing hordes of excited boomers to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on the strength of Joel's popularity, and they won't be disappointed: The hits are all here, sung with amazing stamina and obvious relish by a talented young piano man named Michael Cavanaugh, who presides over the proceedings, along with a nine-piece rock ensemble, from a fancy hydraulic bandstand that keeps movin' up and down and in and out, providing a proscenium within a proscenium for the danced drama unfolding below. (Santo Loquasto provides the spare settings, Suzy Benziger the colorful period costumes and the flashy lighting is by Donald Holder.)
That drama is performed by a cast of dancers as astonishingly gifted as any seen on Broadway in memory. John Selya, a veteran of American Ballet Theatre who has collaborated with Tharp before, makes an electrifying Broadway debut as the troubled Vietnam vet who is at the center of much of the show. Dancing with extraordinary grace and mind-blowing athleticism, and acting with unforced charm, he infuses the second act with the consistent emotional pulse absent in the first. Keith Roberts, an ABT vet with Broadway experience, is likewise a naturally charismatic dancer with brilliant technique, and his pas de deux with the fabulously elastic Elizabeth Parkinson, of sky-high extensions and searing sex appeal, are among the show's mesmerizing highlights. In slightly smaller roles, Benjamin G. Bowman and Ashley Tuttle (an ABT principal dancer on leave, and on point) are no less accomplished, and help to imbue this sometimes wayward show with magnetic appeal through the sheer ebullience of their dancing.
It's in the relationship between the dancing, the drama and the music that "Movin' Out' sometimes comes up short, despite the intelligence and care that Tharp, a leading American choreographer for more than three decades, brings to it. The show represent a natural progression for Tharp, who has often experimented with pop vocal music (Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Randy Newman and others) - something many choreographers avoid. (Tharp is nothing if not fearless: She recently choreographed a ballet to Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony" for New York City Ballet.) Its primary antecedent in Tharp's oeuvre is probably her 1973 ballet "Deuce Coupe," set to Beach Boys songs, which commented more abstractly on the 1960s, the period that Tharp is exploring in specific detail here. Tharp also did the dances for Milos Forman's movie of "Hair," covering similar territory.
But she is clearly challenged by the task of telling a multilayered story in pure dance terms (never her specialty), and also challenged by the music - despite her affection for it. Writing about "Deuce Coupe," New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce noted that "the music is a kind of music for which a dance idiom already exists." That can't be said for Joel's pop rock, which has a heavier tread than those feathery Beach Boys tunes, too. The songs are delivered at rock-concert volume here, and often seems to be more in competition with the choreography than working in concert with it; you often sense Tharp pushing up the volume - piling on the athletic turns for Selya, the leaps for Roberts, the frenzied eroticism for Parkinson - simply so the dancing can hold its own. And there are moments (the second act's "Pressure") when the contrast between some of Tharp's lyrical dancing and the hard-driving guitar music produces an effect dangerously akin to camp. (How Eddie's mortifyingly silly S&M fantasia sequence survived the show's Chicago tryout is anyone's guess, by the way.)
Nevertheless, on its own terms the choreography is always exciting, even if it is, like the story and Joel's instantly hummable tunes, rarely subtle. It is grounded in the classical ballet vocabulary, but the shapes are looser and freer, and steps are combined with vernacular movement and the occasional bit of literal miming. It's probably not Tharp at the top of her form, but it's first-class pop ballet.
The narrative focuses on the exploits of a gang of high school buddies graduating into a changing world in 1960s Long Island. As first presented, in a romp set to the thumping beat of Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," the boys are identified by the names on their letter jackets, the girls by the color of their hair. High-spirited frolicking around a vintage Mustang concludes with the perky redhead Brenda (Parkinson) separating herself from the pack, but it is really not until the trio of young men whose diverging destinies are the focus of the show - Selya's Eddie, Roberts' Tony and Bowman's James - march off to Vietnam that a coherent story comes into focus.
That narrative, as it unfolds across a more cogent second act, has its moving aspects. But it is all rather generic. James is killed in action, and his widow, Judy (Tuttle), struggles to come to terms with his death. Eddie loses his way in the counterculture before emerging whole for an uplifting finale, while Tony and Brenda rekindle their love after a period of antagonism fueled by Tony's emotional problems.
Since the story is neither arresting in itself nor relayed with consistent clarity, the show is best enjoyed simply as a suite of dances. From the first act, a comic pas de trois for the guys lingers in the memory for its freshness and invention - and for the haunting way it segues into a depiction of their conscription into the Army. Roberts and Parkinson have several intense pas de deux, culminating in a reconciliatory encounter in the second act set to Joel's "Shameless." Tuttle, a small-boned dancer with a delicate presence that brings a natural pathos to her character's plight, is winsomely elegant in her more overtly classical sequences. She plays a sort of spirit guide in the show's most galvanizing sequence, Eddie's second-act flashback to Vietnam, which features some of Tharp's most arresting choreography. Here, drama, dance and music - Joel's mournful anthem "Goodnight Saigon" - coalesce terrifically.
That they only do so intermittently will be a disappointment to those hoping the next great Broadway dance musical had arrived. (Count me among those.) But Joel's fans aren't likely to complain about a show that brings some 30 of his compositions to Broadway. If they continue to turn out as they have in previews, "Movin' Out" will be hangin' around for a while. As one of Joel's Hicksville kids might put it: "Yo! 'Mamma, Mia!' Move over!"
"'Movin' Out' Pays Homage To Rock"
By: Michael Kuchwara
(October 24th, 2002)
Whatever they are calling it - Broadway show, dansical, theatre piece, rock homage - "Movin' Out," Twyla Tharp's stage celebration of the songs of Billy Joel, is, at heart and on toe, a ballet.
The dancing is exuberant, the story less so in this ambitious, athletic production, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Tharp, who directed and choreographed "Movin' Out," has given the show her customary quirky movements, gussied up with flashy Broadway production values that include a full-fledged rock band and a steely voiced Billy Joel stand-in named Michael Cavanaugh.
The band and the charismatic Cavanaugh are perched above the stage on a catwalk. Down below Tharp and company tell the story of three good buddies from Long Island and the women who love them. The time is the early 1960s before the Vietnam War.
The tale takes its cue from a Joel classic, "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," and builds from there with such standards as "Just The Way You Are" and "Uptown Girl." For a good portion of the first act, "Movin' Out" feels as if it is an arty, all-dance version of "Grease," with testosterone-fueled young men vying for the attention of flirty high-school babes. There's a lot of strutting and posturing, some of it done in front of a smashing red Mustang convertible.
It's hard to sort out individuals, but eventually Eddie, Tony and James come into focus. So do the women, the haughty Brenda and the more wholesome Judy. The guys go off to Vietnam but only Eddie and Tony come back. When they return, both the men and the women have to deal with their personal demons and sorrows, and some of those torments are more interesting than others.
Eddie descends into a world of drugs and scary dance clubs, which, in the show's most bizarre moment, Tharp populates with one extremely tall drag queen and a guy dressed in leather. The ensemble manages to survive this silliness with its dignity intact.
And the lead dancers are never less than first-rate.
Elizabeth Parkinson, as Brenda, possesses the vivacity of Gwen Verdon, the legs of Cyd Charisse and the sexiness of Ann Reinking. Parkinson invests the character with even more personality than she is given by either Tharp's choreography or Joel's songs.
As the tormented Eddie, John Selya, all blue-collar macho, is terrific, too. And, shades of Michael Jackson, he does an amazing moonwalk, one of the show's few funny moments.
Humor, unfortunately, is in short supply. Yet there are some lovely lyrical touches, provided by Parkinson and curly haired Keith Roberts as Tony, while Ashley Tuttle exudes a plaintive, pensive quality as Judy.
"Movin' Out" is at its best in its more joyous, celebratory moments, and Tharp wisely builds the show to a rousing finale, one that has the four leads and ensemble hurling across the stage.
Oddly enough, the show "Movin' Out" most resembles in spirit is that other boomer-biased Broadway production, "Mamma Mia!" Part of the success of the ABBA musical is based on the audience's previous knowledge of the songs. That helps "Movin' Out," too. It's the nostalgia of recognition, cuing theatregoers to respond to what they already know.
In "Movin' Out," Joel's gritty numbers are intended to tell the story. They sure work as individual songs. Whether they are a strong enough narrative thread is another thing.
"Billy Joel Falls Off The Wagon"
(October 24th, 2002)
How does the Billy Joel song go again? "A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite."
Well, Joel's own appetite for wine these days has raised concern among his friends and fans.
Just four months after he underwent treatment for alcohol abuse in a swanky Connecticut dry-out tank, lovesick Billy Joel is still drowning his persistent blues in a sea of wine and sometimes champagne, insiders tell Confidential.
A half-dozen sources in Manhattan say they recently spotted Joel, 53, drinking in several of the city's fashionable watering holes. Sometimes he is with friends, sometimes he's alone. He drinks at lunch-time and at dinner, say the sources, downing bottles of red and/or expensive bubbly. And always, he is the one paying the bills.
Among his favorite spots is the downstairs bar of his temporary home at The Ritz-Carlton hotel near Central Park. There, Joel is routinely drinking Pol Roget "Winston Churchill" champagne at $230 a pop, says a source. Sometimes, between sips, he tickles the ivory keys of the bar's piano with mournful ballads.
"He doesn't look like a happy camper," one source said of Joel, whose music is featured in "Movin' Out," a Broadway show that premiered October 24th, 2002. "He has lost weight. He is brooding. And, the time I saw him, he looked inebriated."
Taking even a sip of liquor can send a recovering alcoholic over the edge and into old habits, says National Institute on Alcohol Abuse spokeswoman Ann Bradley. "Some alcoholics can resume moderate drinking," she says, "but we advocate total abstinence."
Other recent Joel sightings, say sources, include:
On September 28th, 2002, Joel has lunch by himself at a hip New York eatery. Famed columnist Cindy Adams says he polished off a bottle of something other than water. Later, he turns up at another bar, The Bitter End. A fan who had his picture taken with Joel there reported she smelled liquor on the singer's breath.
October 6th, 2002 Joel orders two bottles of champagne at The Ritz-Carlton for him and eight friends. He has three glasses, pays and leaves a big tip after playing the piano for nearly two hours.
October 7th, 2002 patrons at The Ritz-Carlton see him wobbling in, then out of the bar. "He seemed disoriented," a source said, "and a doorman had to escort him to the elevator."
October 12th, 2002 at 7pm, he is seen again at the Ritz bar, drinking champagne with friends.
So, what's eating the rock and roll Hall of Famer? The singer of such classics as "Uptown Girl," "Allentown" and "New York State of Mind" says he has deep regrets about not finding a woman he could be with forever, and feels lonely. He recently ditched his beloved Long Island for Manhattan, hoping to find his great love.
The big move came shortly after he was released, in June, from the New Canaan, Connecticut, Silver Hill Hospital. Joel had checked himself in there just five days after wrapping his '99 Mercedes around a pole near East Hampton, NY, and two weeks after his ex-girlfriend, Inside Edition reporter Trish Bergin, married someone else. He told one reporter at the time that he had been on a "red-wine diet."
Which means, according to my sources, that not much has changed since the summer. Even worse, Joel is now denying he is an alcoholic.
"I'm an alcohol abuser, which is different," he told NBC's "Today" show host Matt Lauer October 17th, 2002, adding that he can stop and control his drinking. His fans sure hope he is right.
By: Frank Scheck
(October 25th, 2002)
Ballets set to modern popular music are nothing new, and Broadway shows inspired by the catalogs of top-selling pop stars aren't either. But this collaboration between choreographer Twyla Tharp and singer-songwriter Billy Joel marks the first time the two concepts have been combined, and the result is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. A full-length ballet set to more than two dozen Joel songs, "Movin' Out" seems both overextended and out of place.
What might have been a fun diversion in the repertoire of a company like the Joffrey Ballet comes across as both forced and pretentious onstage at the Richard Rodgers. Having already garnered a sizable advance sale, the show is likely to do well initially on the strength of the appeal of Joel's music, but long-term success a la The Who's "Tommy" seems a tough bet.
Unlike the plotless ballets previously choreographed to music by Prince, the Beach Boys, etc., "Movin' Out" purports to contain a narrative, albeit a wordless one told entirely through dance. Using the lyrics of Joel's songs for inspiration, the show tells the stories of five characters growing up in Long Island, NY, during the 1960s. Brenda and Eddie, that prom king and queen from "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," are splitting up, with Tony, whom we know from the title number, ready to take up the slack with Brenda. James and Judy are deeply in love, which we gather from their passionate duet on the tender ballet set to "Just the Way You Are." Eventually, the Vietnam War intrudes on the various relationships, and when James fails to return, the grieving widow Judy pours out her feelings to "The Stranger." You get the idea.
Although the characters and situations are basically easy to follow, depth is necessarily sacrificed, and the show largely fails to resonate emotionally. What power there is in the evening comes from the music - which is both highly impressive in its melodic and lyrical diversity and deeply nostalgic for those of us who grew up listening to it - and Tharp's imaginative and eclectic choreography. This would be enough in a shorter dose, but at two hours, "Movin' Out" ultimately feels forced and repetitive.
The music is delivered by a 10-piece band perched on a catwalk above the stage that is periodically lowered and thrust forward to provide an in-your-face experience. Led by the talented singer-pianist Michael Cavanaugh, whose voice bears more than a slight similarity to Joel's, they deliver the songs with power and finesse - in arrangements that vary little from the original recordings. It does feel like a bit of a cheat, however, that the score also includes selections from Joel's recent classical opus, though they do provide soothing respites from the nonstop barrage of pop rock.
Tharp's choreography, utilizing a wide range of styles - ballet, jazz, even a crowd-pleasing moonwalk - is consistently inventive and fluid, but she is constrained by the literalness of the song lyrics, with often silly results. Thus, the dancing to "Prelude/Angry Young Man" is, well, angry, and in "Captain Jack," in which Eddie gets high, it's spacey. Also groan-inducing is the ballet set to "Pressure," featuring a bevy of postwar widows dressed in black.
It's certainly well-performed, however, by the talented cast, with particularly sterling contributions by John Selya as Eddie (he has a dazzling solo during "Summer, Highland Falls") and the long-legged Ashley Tuttle (a former principal at American Ballet Theatre) as Judy. Keep in mind, however, that an alternate lead cast and vocalist perform at matinee performances.
By: Paul Wontorek
(October 25th, 2002)
There would seem to be plenty of ways to make a fool-proof Broadway show using the songs of Billy Joel, the Grammy-winning piano man whose Billboard career spans almost 30 years. From high-gloss revues like the Leiber and Stoller tribute Smokey Joe's Café to the smash hit Mamma Mia!, which weaves the ABBA songbook around completely new book, producers have found ways to bring joy to the masses with the sweet sound of familiarity. Why then risk the unchartered path of the danceful, daring Movin' Out, which just opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre?
"Movin' Out" has a fresh approach: lure Broadway audiences in with Joel's ever-popular songs and then educate them with the artistry of a full-length ballet by director/choreographer Twyla Tharp, best known in this neck of the woods for her work on 1985's forgettable stage version of Singin' in the Rain and as choreographer of the film Hair. With "Movin' Out," Tharp dares audiences to forget conventional Broadway narrative and follow her characters through several decades of heartbreak and renewal purely through dance and a string of Joel's greatest songs. (Apparently, some audiences haven't taken Tharp up on her dare as a blunt 11-sentence synopsis of the plot is provided in the program).
Happily, the odd coupling of Joel and Tharp is a surprise success, and both artists come out the better for the meeting. "Movin' Out" uses 24 of Grammy-winner Joel's rock and pop hits - performed live by inexhaustible "Piano Man" Michael Cavanaugh and a smoking nine-piece band which reminds us why live is better than Memorex - and a handful of pre-recorded pieces written for his 2001 classical piano album "Fantasies & Delusions." The career retrospective, which includes megahits like "She's Got A Way," "Big Shot," "Pressure" and "We Didn't Start The Fire" overpowers Joel's recent public battles with loneliness and the bottle and reconfirms his immense songwriting talents. Tharp, meanwhile, proves that even she can wow Broadway audiences with a full-length pop ballet that remains deeply rooted in classical dance. Audiences looking for some big-time Broadway hoofing won't be disappointed by even the more eccentric moments of Tharp's "Movin' Out" work, which invites everyone in to join in the fun.
"Movin' Out," which follows a group of Long Islanders for several decades, finds its lead characters in the lyrics of some of Joel's most famous songs. From his legendary platinum 1977 album "The Stranger" we meet Brenda (Elizabeth Parkinson) and Eddie (John Selya), the "popular steadies" of "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and Tony (Keith Roberts) and Sergeant O'Leary (Scott Wise) of "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)." Joining them are Benjamin G. Bowman and Ashley Tuttle as high school sweethearts James (from a little-known song of the same name) and Judy (could she be named after the early Joel rarity "Why Judy Why"?). But audiences hoping to follow the story purely through the lyrics will be confused. Joel's songs aren't shoehorned into situations - instead they provide a general outline of the action. And the songs are carefully chosen to avoid clunkiness (Fret not - none of the characters in "Movin' Out" are "living here in Allentown").
Instead of lyrics or dialogue, we have Tharp's electrifying nonstop choreography, which succeeds in telling the simple story with clarity for most of the night. Act One is the weaker of the show's parts - the introduction of the leads is rushed, and there are some awkward military passages detailing basic training and a Vietnam War battle scene, but there is still much to admire: James' touching proposal to Judy during Joel's evergreen love song, "Just The Way You Are," Eddie's loneliness dance after the Brenda breakup to one of Joel's best ballads, "Summer, Highland Falls" and the "Elegy: The Great Peconic" scene that closes the act with the classic heartbreaking image of soldiers returning home from war. Act Two is comparatively bulletproof, as the show finds its soul in the characters' post-war heartbreak and confusion. "Movin' Out" ultimately comes to a moving close to the evocative lyrics of Joel's "I've Loved These Days." An intermissionless approach would have worked better for the emotional arc of the show, but it's hard to fault the hard-working cast of dancers for taking a break to catch their breath.
The principal performers of "Movin' Out" are, in a word, stunning. Parkinson, the Nicole Kidman look-alike who first captured Broadway's eye in "Fosse," has the meatiest part and performs it breathtakingly. She generates a good amount of heat with the equally-wonderful Roberts in a series of electric Act Two sequences: the confrontational entanglement of "Big Shot," the angry competition of "Big Man On Mulberry Street" and, finally, the terrific "Shameless," in which the lovers finally melt in each other's arms in the sexiest pas de deux to grace a Broadway stage in ages. As Eddie, the cocky loner whose life is shaken by his experience in Vietnam, American Ballet Theatre vet Selya stands out in solos, which show off his acrobatic prowess. Bowman and Tuttle, also veterans of the ballet world, inject great passion into the heartbreaking story of James and Judy (which culminates in Tharp's "Goodnight Saigon" sequence that succeeds in matching the emotional weight of Joel's heart wrenching song). In addition to the likable leads, the entire "Movin' Out" ensemble (of both the Broadway and ballet worlds) displays a joy for performing that's infectious.
Cavanaugh, the talented young singer/pianist who overlooks the stage from a hydraulic platform on Santo Loquasto's industrial set, provides an invaluable service as the show's human Billy Joel jukebox. He sounds like Joel and his robust performance of the familiar songs will more than satisfy diehard fans in the house. Still, the highlight of the show is the dance and although Cavanaugh sings with passion and verve, he's ultimately playing second fiddle to the action below - hey, even Joel himself would have trouble competing for attention with Tharp's thrilling feats of dance. Finally, after the curtain call, Cavanaugh is given his own well-deserved spotlight moment, performing "New York State of Mind" for the enthusiastic hometown crowd.
Part musical, part rock concert, part ballet, "Movin' Out" defies categorization and certainly isn't for everyone. Musical theatre purists may bemoan its simple story and the lack of a libretto, while modern dance followers could be turned off by the more razzle-dazzle moments of Tharp's work. But for theatergoers in the mood for an adventure, "Movin' Out" is a true original and a triumph.
"Vietnam-Era Pain and Joy"
By: Ben Brantley
(October 25th, 2002)
When a young man kicks up his heels in the new Broadway show "Movin' Out," which opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the feeling isn't just fancy-free. True, Eddie, a strapping boy in his salad days, has every reason to be frisky. He is newly split from his fiancée, and there are plenty of delicious women just waiting to step out with him.
But when he jumps into the air, showing off (the ex happens to be nearby), his heels skew lopsidedly, as if some inner kink of uncertainty were warping his movements. The song he's strutting to is one of those pop tunes by Billy Joel that sound merely catchy at first, and then sad when you listen harder. You look at the leaping lad again and wonder a bit nervously if he might lose his balance.
This haunting little vignette, performed by the dazzling athletic dancer John Selya, is just a blip in the continuous flow that is "Movin' Out," the choreographer Twyla Tharp's shimmering portrait of an American generation set to Mr. Joel's music. But the scene sums up the dynamic that keeps you engaged through what, baldly described, sounds like a snoozy series of clichés - the kinds of things regularly sung about, as a matter of fact, in Top 40 pop ballads of the 1970's.
Yet Ms. Tharp and her vivid team of dancers unearth the reasons certain clichés keep resonating and, more important, make them gleam as if they had just been minted.
In chronicling the stories of five blue-collar friends from their glory days in high school through the Vietnam War and its long hangover, "Movin' Out" vibrates with a riveting uneasiness. The show translates the subliminal anxiety you always feel watching dancers onstage - will they be able to stay in sync? will they slip? will they tumble? - into a study of characters who cannot find equilibrium. They are adolescents jolted out of their expected roles in life before they have had a chance to form their identities.
Everyone in "Movin' Out" ultimately does fall down, literally or otherwise. Of course, under the supervision of Ms. Tharp, who created such milestones in modern dance as "Deuce Coupe," they do so with an aching grace.
Even at a time when the Broadway musical keeps stretching into new categories to find new audiences, "Movin' Out" fits no pigeon-hole. Its closest parallel from recent memory is "Contact," Susan Stroman's effervescent, self-described "dance play." And in using the work of a pop composer like Mr. Joel, "Movin' Out" brings to mind the jukebox musical smashes "Mamma Mia!" (with the songs of Abba) and "We Will Rock You" (Queen).
Yet Ms. Tharp's production has little of the old-style showbiz wit and flourish that Ms. Stroman brought to her delightful trio of danced playlets. Nor does "Movin' Out" trade as obviously as "Mamma Mia!" does on what might be called the karaoke quotient: the pleasure in listening to familiar feel-good music that makes you want to sing along.
"Movin' Out," for the record, has only one principal vocalist: the remarkably accomplished pianist and Billy Joel-sound-alike Michael Cavanaugh, who performs on a platform above the dancers with an excellent 10-piece band. There's a self-contained polish about his singing that does not encourage theatregoers to join in. Up to the show's finale, you're unlikely to feel any overwhelming urge to tap your feet or shimmy your shoulders.
This is because Ms. Tharp has created numbers that, at their best, internalize the score. Each principal performer seems to have his or her own special dialogue with the songs; the dances become shaded personality sketches, expressing individual reactions to mass-marketed music.
It helps that the characters in the show, which is set in Mr. Joel's native Long Island, are just the sort of people who would grow up listening to and identifying with Billy Joel songs. They are less rebellious, less hip precursors to the New Jersey kids who would latch on to Bruce Springsteen.
Ms. Tharp honors the hopeful squareness of her characters' youths and the self-destructive, masochistic streak that runs through Mr. Joel's ballads of disappointment in adulthood. Throughout, she makes wonderfully elegant use of their uncool klutziness. You can imagine yourself becoming these characters in a way that the idealized sophistication of Astaire and Rogers, say, does not allow.
The show begins with a prologue, set to "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," in which the characters introduce themselves with the sort of exuberant, rough-edged poses common to teenagers, guys flexing their muscles and girls wriggling their hips. The dominant feeling is of people trying on attitudes that don't fit.
There are five fully defined characters: Eddie (Mr. Selya) and Brenda (Elizabeth Parkinson), the king and queen of the prom, who break up soon after the show begins (to the strains of "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"); James (Benjamin G. Bowman) and Judy (Ashley Tuttle), whose love seems more durable; and Tony (Keith Roberts), part of a tight trio of friends with Eddie and James.
What follows has been examined to the point of weariness in films like "The Deer Hunter" and "Coming Home" and novels like "Machine Dreams." The three men go to Vietnam as soldiers. Only two return, and all four survivors - the men and women - bear psychic wounds that will not stop festering.
That is pretty much it, folks, and yes, you've heard it before. But with a wide-ranging physical vocabulary that quotes everything from "Swan Lake" to Michael Jackson's moonwalk, Ms. Tharp uses this basic story in the way choreographers of storybook ballets used fairy tales like "Sleeping Beauty." The dancers' movements, especially those of the men, keep uncovering deeper emotional levels that are anything but simple.
Not everything works with equal effectiveness in "Movin' Out," which Ms. Tharp has completely restructured since its initial, poorly received tryout in Chicago. An all-American jalopy (a Mustang convertible, if you please), used in the early scenes, hulks leadenly on the stage, symbolic dead weight.
Ms. Tharp's staging of "Uptown Girl," led by the lissome Ms. Parkinson, feels like a weary reworking of Mr. Joel's video for the same song. On the other hand, a ballet of mourning, performed by Ms. Tuttle and three male dancers, is a devastating study in frenzied grief, with faint shades of Martha Grahamesque tragedy.
Overall, "Movin' Out" is more compelling in shadow than in sunshine, though Donald Holder's superb lighting evokes both eloquently. (The simple, poetically stark set is by Santo Loquasto.) The conventional pas de deux of courtship have nothing on the harsh, hostile dance of recrimination in which Mr. Roberts and Ms. Parkinson seem literally to be tearing each other apart.
The Vietnam sequences, especially one rendered as a phantasmagorical flashback, are both harrowing and lyrical. Even more impressive are the numbers that plumb the lowest depths of Mr. Joel's songs about self-laceration and descents into substance abuse ("Big Shot," "Captain Jack"), in which period styles from disco to break dancing are executed with skilled sloppiness. And Suzy Benzinger's costumes slyly reflect changing times, with a jolting, brilliant nod to punk rock in a war widow's costume.
Ms. Tharp makes hedonism seem aromatically joyless, and I kept expecting my clothes to reek of smoky, sweaty bars afterward. Mr. Selya is extraordinary in these sequences, as Eddie slides further into drug-induced nightmares, in which he often seems to be floating and crashing in one moment.
I wasn't really convinced by the bright, upbeat scenes of salvation that end the show, which suggest that the answer to depression and suicidal tendencies is jogging. But Ms. Tharp stages her dances of reconciliation and redemption with such infectious New Age-flavored glee that you can feel the audience members loosening up gratefully.
Only when the amazing Mr. Cavanaugh finally gets his deserved moment in the spotlight with the encore, "New York State of Mind," do the theatregoers start wriggling happily like the crowds at "Mamma Mia!" After all those images of pain, there is a catharsis in being allowed to feel that Mr. Joel's music is still - if not only - rock and roll.
"At Broadway Opening: Standing Ovation for Billy Joel"
By: Roger Friedman
(October 25th, 2002)
No one had ever seen anything quite like it.
"Only when the hostages came to a show after they were released from Iran," recalled Bebe Neuwirth. Tommy Tune said he'd never seen it either.
Right before "Movin' Out" started last night, Billy Joel came in to take his seats with daughter Alexa.
And the crowd - which included Rod Stewart, Rosie O'Donnell, Clive Davis, Denise Rich and producer Phil Ramone - burst into a spontaneous three-minute standing ovation. Billy looked shocked. There was cheering in the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And this was before the show even started.
By the time it was over, newcomer Michael Cavanaugh - whom Billy found at the New York-New York piano bar in Las Vegas - was an overnight sensation, and Joel had a Broadway hit on his hands.
Inside the theater during the show, the preternaturally young Tommy Tune literally swooned and gasped at Twyla Tharp's muscular dance numbers and hoofers including the phenomenal Elizabeth Parkinson, John Selya and Keith Roberts.
"Wait, look at this," he kept saying to his companion. Later he told me he'd visited the show in Chicago during tryouts, but he seemed awfully well-versed in all the numbers.
Rod Stewart and girlfriend Penny Lancaster did not make the afterparty, although everyone else did. Seems Rod and Penny got confused about the half-block walk to the Marriott Marquis, and are now somewhere in Manhattan in a limo.
Rod's new album, "It Had to Be You: The American Songbook," though, is set for a Top 20 debut next week, and I'm sure he'll be back by then.
"The Story Is In The Steps"
By: Anna Kisselgoff
(October 25th, 2002)
Let's put on a show," Twyla said to Billy, or some such thing. And so Twyla Tharp has conceived, directed and choreographed "Movin' Out," a two-act story ballet set to Billy Joel's hit songs, which are performed by a band and a vocalist on a platform above her tornado-driven dancers at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
As a dance critic, I am perfectly willing to call "Movin' Out" a show, and a terrific one at that, despite its thin-soup plot about coming of age in the Vietnam-era. What the production is not is a musical, newfangled or otherwise, just because it is produced on Broadway. There is no dialogue, the dancers don't sing and the lyrics are sometimes irrelevant to the dancing.
Yet to understand why two separate and equal casts of major ballet dancers and rock musicians have propelled Billy Joel fans into delirious ovations at matinee and evening previews is to measure Ms. Tharp's achievement. She knows that music is transformed by dance.
The best choreographers have repeatedly revealed new dimensions to composers in their own music. When George Balanchine choreographed "Movements For Piano and Orchestra" to Stravinsky's score of the same title, Stravinsky expressed his gratitude: "The choreography emphasizes relationships of which I had hardly been aware," he said, and likened the performance to "a tour of a building for which I had drawn the plans, but never explored the result."
Ms. Tharp's genius is to give the public a recognizable Billy Joel. (The applause rolls in at the beginning of many songs.) But her virtuosic and emotionally charged dances are anything but a mere visualization of his lyrics or rhythms. The dancing dominates the show, thanks also to Elizabeth Parkinson, Keith Roberts, John Selya, Benjamin G. Bowman and Ashley Tuttle, who lead the first cast, and to William Marrié and Holly Cruikshank at the Wednesday and Saturday matinees.
Ms. Tharp is often most effective when she works against the grain. The song "Uptown Girl" may be about an East Side beauty. But onstage, the image is of Brenda, a big-hair girl in Hicksville, on Long Island, who finds liberation in a strutting sexy solo backed by a horny male entourage.
The thing to keep in mind is that the dancing tells the story. A woman behind me was surprised to learn that there was no dialogue. "Nobody's talking," she said 10 minutes into the first act. Then she added, "But I like the dancing."
For Ms. Tharp, occasional irony toward the lyrics goes hand in hand with respect for Mr. Joel's musical structures and melodies. "She's Got A Way" is a love ballad, and its lyrics are harshly illuminated here by two simultaneous loveless scenes. Brenda loves Tony, who is in Vietnam, but she has become a go-go girl who falls into the arms of sleazy clients from atop a bar. At the other end of the stage, Tony is at a different bar in Vietnam, listlessly dancing with a Saigon prostitute. Brenda's choreography is dynamic and Tony's is close to stillness. You know he is thinking about Brenda because Ms. Tharp molds each body into communicating something about every character.
Certainly the spring-board for the entire spectacle is Mr. Joel's gift for evoking mood and character in his songs. The plot Ms. Tharp invented refers to the suburban ambience in some of these songs, which provide the names for the show's characters.
Tony, Eddie and James are best friends, working-class youths. (Eddie is a mechanic who drives a convertible onstage.) They hang out at the back wall of a mall, one of several spiffy sets by Santo Loquasto. Tony takes up with the liberated Brenda after she breaks up with Eddie. James and his Judy are well-behaved sweethearts. The Vietnam War changes their lives. In a graphic battle scene complete with composite hill and tank, Eddie becomes crazed and may be responsible for James's death. Eddie and Tony, traumatized vets, return in need of healing.
If all this sounds familiar and you remember films like "The Deer Hunter," the idea here is that the how is more important than the what. Dance can express what words cannot.
There are, of course, words in the songs, belted out professionally by the singer and pianist Michael Cavanaugh in the first cast and with more nuanced humanity by Wade Preston at the Wednesday and Saturday matinees.
Nonetheless, Ms. Tharp's images come from a dance tradition. Like Martha Graham's protagonists, Eddie heals through self-understanding. Ms. Tharp is cheeky enough to allude to "Giselle." Judy and three fellow furies in black veils stab away in toe shoes as the equivalent of the wilis, or ghosts, who help the antihero of "Giselle" find remorse and regeneration.
The vocabulary, however, is pure Tharp. She even quotes from "Ocean's Motion," a piece she created in 1975, the era of "Movin' Out." Here is the old Tharp signature style, full of spirals and swinging arms. Over the years she has focused more on classical ballet as her main idiom. The dancers may wear sneakers or jazz shoes, but nobody but classically trained dancers could even begin to cope with the superhuman partnering and stamina required by this choreography.
Yes, "Movin' Out" is a contemporary ballet. A crossover artist since the 1960's, Ms. Tharp was as enamored of Jimmy Yancey, the blues pianist, as she was later of Frank Sinatra in her hit "Nine Sinatra Songs." Ballet companies have performed her pop pieces, but they were one-act works, usually performed to recordings. In "Movin' Out" the live band, integrated into the stage action by Donald Holder's splendid and blazing lighting, makes a difference.
This big sound supports the dynamics of the choreography, whose whirlwind energy is expressive in itself. The dancing is full of classical bravura. Mr. Roberts, amazingly transformed from his cherubic self at American Ballet theatre into a passionate guy in search of his girl, and Mr. Selya, also lately with Ballet Theatre, are no slouches in this department.
Mr. Selya colors Eddie's role with calculated street smarts. Mr. Marrié, who made a phenomenal guest appearance with Ballet Theatre two years ago when he was in the National Ballet of Canada, digs deeper into the anguished characterization of the other cast's Eddie.
True, the first leads perform with more power. Ms. Parkinson, once with the Joffrey Ballet and recently in "Fosse," matches Mr. Roberts' new found star power with her customary grit, sexiness and terrific technique.
Whether she is Brenda provoking Mr. Roberts as Tony while wearing, unbelievably, a copper-colored bra, or stretching tenderly through a modest duet with him, she is a dancer of risk and daring.
At a Wednesday matinee, Ms. Cruikshank, as Brenda, was a flower of another color: a long-stemmed American rose with an Ava Gardner allure to her elegant dancing and loose-limbed extensions. Star potential.
As the evening cast's James and Judy, Mr. Bowman, formerly with New York City Ballet, and Ms. Tuttle, one of Ballet theatre's most classical ballerinas, get most of the pure classical choreography, but they dance with no less attack.
As is customary with Ms. Tharp, the choreography nonetheless blends the classical and the vernacular. The stage explodes in the ensemble scenes, notably to the song "We Didn't Start The Fire," absolving a generation of history's sins. The overlapping scenes of war and worried women at home reflect attitude as much as story.
Eddie's nightmare flashback could be a cliché. Yet Rika Okamoto is credible as a Vietnamese waif wandering in a daze among ghostly soldiers, a contrast to her Saigon prostitute earlier. In other bar episodes (even an S & M party) that symbolize Eddie's self-destruction, Karine Bageot, once with Alvin Ailey, does wonders with her Tina Turner act.
At the end, the same disco drive propels the dancing at an exultant high school reunion. All good ballets used to have an apotheosis. This one does too.
"A Movin' Ballet"
By: Clive Barnes
(October 25th, 2002)
They can call the Twyla Tharp/Billy Joel "Movin' Out" a musical until they're blue in the face. But if it looks like a ballet, sounds like a ballet, feels like a ballet and dances like a ballet - it is a ballet, the first full-evening Broadway ballet, at least since Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" a few years back got Broadway's feet wet.
If a story is too silly to speak, then sing it; and if it's too silly to sing, then dance it. And the story of "Movin' Out," which opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, while not exactly silly, is familiar to the point of seeming simplistic.
Young love. Young marriage. Draft. Vietnam. Death. Alienation. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Despite the accent on things past, Tharp's not dancing Proust here. But the simplicity of the theme lends itself to the narrative thrust of those incredibly evocative and powerful Joel songs. It is story by suggestion, emotion by remembrance.
Unlike the milquetoast stuff offered in Susan Stroman's "Contact," the dancing and choreography are the real thing. Most of the troupe are ballet-trained, some as principal dancers with major companies, and all of them dance at high-octane level.
The beginning is slow going, but once we get to Vietnam and the second act, Tharp and her dancers get really hot.
Essential to Tharp's concept is Billy Joel's music. We've seen how skillfully existing songs can be adapted to a sung-through story line in "Mamma Mia!" and there's a musical, poetic and dramatic weight to Joel that emerges especially well in "Movin' Out."
Tharp's choreography is less ornate than her 30 year-old "Deuce Coupe," created to music by the Beach Boys, but it has a real Broadway sweep, drive and pizazz. At its worst it's effective, at its best it's terrific.
No praise can be too high for the dancing: The principals are all from Tharp's own company and they dance her choreography as if it were spontaneous and dazzling improvisation.
Elizabeth Parkinson, Keith Roberts, Ashley Tuttle and Benjamin G. Bowman are the two couples, with John Selya as the odd-man-out joker in the pack. Parkinson and Roberts (especially in a kind of longing "duet," when separated by oceans, they dance with two seductive surrogates) are especially fine.
But it is Selya's show - his characterization as much as his no-holds-barred dancing is absolutely riveting. He's a star.
Wednesday and Saturday matinees, the show has a second cast. This, with Holly Cruikshank, David Gomez and Meg Paul, is also extremely good, so don't feel cheated if you catch it.
"A B'Way State of Mind"
By: Howard Kissel
(October 25th, 2002)
Twyla Tharp's choreography to music by Billy Joel is extraordinarily demanding, but her young dancers perform it with astonishing commitment and energy.
These dancers have classical training, and they can do the traditional movements with an intensity that makes what goes on at our "serious" local companies seem exceedingly tepid.
But sometimes, within a phrase or two, they must go from the lyrical classical style into the angular, libidinal, athletic movements for which Tharp is known.
I would imagine that however much one has rehearsed, these abrupt transitions must have an effect on the body comparable to whiplash, but these dancers perform them as if they were the most natural thing in the world.
In a "normal" musical, the dancers would have a chance to take it easy, while the book scenes or the purely vocal moments took place.
But in "Movin' Out," there is no book and there is only one singer (Michael Cavanaugh), and he is on a platform behind the dancers. They are "on" virtually the whole evening.
Tharp has strung the dances together in a plot about a group of lifelong friends who start out in the carefree world of the early '60s, à la "American Graffiti."
The three young men - Eddie, Tony and James - go to Vietnam. James comes back in a body bag. (An especially moving moment is the simple ritual act of folding the flag that has covered his coffin to give to his widow.)
The others return shattered.
Their lives spin into disarray. Toward the end, though, Tony is reunited with his girlfriend, and the evening ends in a muted version of the warm feelings with which it began.
The plot ultimately doesn't matter much. And some of its turns, like a scene in an S&M bar, seem silly. Joel's words don't necessarily deepen our sense of the human story behind the steps.
Tharp's choreography is not greatly varied, but the stage fairly explodes with energy; her dancers seem incapable of doing anything halfway.
The men - John Selya, Keith Roberts and Benjamin G. Bowman - have the most Herculean assignments, which they perform with an imposing mix of heroic vitality and simple grace.
But the women - Elizabeth Parkinson and Ashley Tuttle - have the same inherent power, even when they are being tossed about, as they sometimes are, quite roughly.
Santo Loquasto's sets are suitably gritty. Donald Holder's lighting is intensely dramatic. The onstage band is terrific, especially sax player John Scarpulla.
Whether or not "Movin' Out" really depicts the emotional mood of the last four decades, the dancing - and the dancers - are absolutely thrilling.
"'Piano Man's' Tunes Can't Carry A Stage Show"
By: Jim Farber
(October 25th, 2002)
No matter what you think of Billy Joel's voice - and the man himself has said he doesn't think much of it - at least it has a certain pugnacious character.
That's just one of the many things missing from "Movin' Out," the bland dance/theater/what-ever-you-call-it adaptation of Joel's music for Broadway. As sung by 29 year-old Michael Cavanaugh, the songs sound like a body-snatched version of the composer's work. Cavanaugh's voice may be amazingly accurate to Joel's in color, tone and inflection. But he lacks the arrogant humanity that gives Joel his individuality.
Still, it's no surprise Cavanaugh was chosen for the part. He's a technically better singer than Joel and a more theatrical one. But there's an adenoidal quality to his voice that, too often, recalls one of the most loathed singers in rock history - Styx's Dennis DeYoung.
Through no fault of his own, Cavanaugh makes a somewhat distracting presence on stage. He has been directed to perform directly to the crowd, even though he's perched on an elevated platform throughout the evening. Are we supposed to look at the singer, or at the dancers, who elaborate the show's vague character and plot?
It's no surprise that the eyes, as well as the mind, wander back and forth during the evening. But even if choreographer Twyla Tharp had come up with far more arresting visuals, it couldn't make up for the basic clunk and cliché of Joel's lyrics. The literal-mindedness of Tharp's dance moves only magnify the problem.
What Joel has going for him, as a composer, is a wealth of impeccably hummable pop tunes. But his words lack the extraordinary insight it would take to bring his subject alive - that is, the inner lives of ordinary people. His lyrics have the demographically attuned, generic quality of a newsmagazine cover story. Small wonder, as strung together by Tharp, the pieces add up to one long string of baby boomer bromides.
This also explains why the show, and the dancing, seem so much more fleet during the few purely instrumental interludes.
In the end, however, there's a more damning and obvious question underlying all this: For all the millions who've loved to sing along with Joel's glorious tunes over the years, has a single person ever been inspired to dance to them?
"A Movin' Dancical of Waste of War, Power of Art"
By: Linda Winer
(October 25th, 2002)
It's that time again - time to shake and bake definitions of a Broadway show. In the next weeks, producers will be mixing up expectations with a Puccini opera, "La Bohème," in subtitled Italian, and a "Def Poetry Jam" produced by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons.
We can't guess the fate of the other demographic interlopers. But "Movin' Out," the virtually wordless dance musical that brings Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel together for a frisson of boundary-defying virtuosity, is an ecstatic throwback to what we called dancicals in the Bob Fosse-driven '70s. It is also a true-heart original.
Here is concert dance more challenging and cheeky than even the best decorative and narrative Broadway movement. Here is bone marrow, mainstream pop authenticity on a street best known for the ersatz and the sanitized.
The two-hour dancical, which opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre after an agonized tryout in Chicago, requires some initial perceptual adjustments. Tharp's primal Vietnam-America story seems thin and obvious at first flush. The elevated onstage 10-piece band with the singing "Piano Man" (the hard-driving Michael Cavanaugh at night, the funkier Wade Preston at matinees) is raised and lowered, slid forward and back, so often that we fear we're in for high- tech karaoke from people who don't trust their material and want their money's worth from the machinery.
It would be a mistake, however, to be lulled into lazy watching. In 1973, Tharp cracked open the separations between brainy modern dance, formal ballet and pop culture forever with "Deuce Coupe," the willfully wonderful marriage of the Beach Boys and the Joffrey Ballet. After putting herself in a stylistic straitjacket for the 1985 "Singin' In The Rain," Tharp has finally set loose her nervy, cerebral, slinky, fiendishly difficult, deliriously pleasurable self on the broad commercial audience she has always deserved.
This time she went to Joel, at the top of the short list of gifted pop balladeers who, in another life, might have wanted to become Richard Rodgers instead of Bo Diddley. She has arranged 24 of Joel's most personal yet universal songs into a narrative about the devastation of Vietnam on a bunch of working-class Long Island kids. The result is probably the best anti-war ballet since Kurt Joos' 1930s "The Green Table" and an American pop anthem to disenchantment and reconciliation.
The dancers are real Tharp dancers, which means they are multitasking demons of athletics, attitude and art. Any time the story feels simplistic - which it inevitably does - fix your eyes on any one of these dancers, costumed with a sense of era and a delight in these bodies by Suzy Benzinger. The hairpin changes in tempo, direction and attack, the off-center balances, the jumbled focus all are visualizations of the complexity of emotions - how many contradictory things people think and feel simultaneously.
Santo Loquasto's set is wisely kept simple. For the realism-fixated among us, there is a genuine classic red Mustang in the alley where the gang hangs in prewar innocence and returns years later to heal a decade of wounds. Mostly, however, courtships and sex, boyish play-soldiering and subsequent degradation are danced before a chain-link fence, lit from behind by Donald Holder.
Given the physical demands, there is a separate set of lead dancers for matinees. Seeing both is a lesson in the subtle possibilities in these characters and the depth of the company's bench. The name to remember is John Selya, whose Eddie has a heartbreaking loner heroism and whose nervous system can maneuver Tharp's polyglot dance languages so seamlessly and with such psychological subtlety that we never see a twitch of preparation. His afternoon counterpart, William Marrie, has a tougher exterior and a lower center of gravity for quick turns, but he can't touch Selya's muscular switches from giddy break-dance to harrowing calisthenics to lyrical reverie.
We meet Hicksville's youth in the jitterbugging clarity of "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me." There is the breakup of Brenda and Eddie - the exquisitely extended Elizabeth Parkinson at night, the supermodel-formidable Holly Cruikshank at matinees - in "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." Brenda becomes seeker, the "Uptown Girl" of Tony (the exuberantly gangly Keith Roberts, then David Gomez with the hawk's wingspan). Judy and James (Benjamin G. Bowman) have the balletic courtship, before Judy (the lyric Ashley Tuttle, then the space-eating Meg Paul) puts on the widow's black toe shoes and haunts guilty Eddie like a Wili from "Giselle."
How smart of Tharp to locate untapped danceability in Joel's songs - not just the doo-wop sex potential in "This Night," but the rhumba in "An Innocent Man" and the mambo in "I've Loved These Days." She also uses his new orchestral work in shocking, ironic ways - a Schubert-like scherzo during Army drills, a baroque invention for the vets' drugged-out panhandling. And she makes a genuine Walpurgisnacht from "Pressure," when Army buddies rise from the dead to haunt Eddie, and us, with the waste of war - and the power of moving theatre.
"New York State of Mind"
'Movin' Out' Star Loves Show Just The Way It Is
By: Robert Kahn
(October 25th, 2002)
Billy Joel was a big man on 46th Street last night as the singer-songwriter was joined by daughter Alexa Ray and mom Rosalind for the opening of "Movin' Out," his Broadway collaboration with choreographer Twyla Tharp.
"I feel great," a reserved Joel said moments before the curtain went up. "Twyla had a vision, and I think that was the most important thing about making this work. When somebody has a vision that intense, the best thing to do is get out of the way and don't mess with it."
Joel also joked that he's "not even sure what to call this thing" - a "dance musical" conceived by Tharp and based on more than two dozen of the Long Islander's songs.
"It's not a traditional musical," he said. "But I like that it's risky and different."
Joel was escorted into the Richard Rodgers Theatre by Alexa, who had not seen the show during previews.
"I've been busy with school and everything, and my dad keeps asking me, 'When are you gonna see my show?'" said the 16 year-old. "This is a big night for him."
Joel's mom, meanwhile, behaved like any kvelling parent.
"We always knew he was talented as a kid," riffed Rosalind Joel, who says her favorite song in her son's repertoire is "She's Always A Woman."
"Am I excited? Sure, it's unbelievable," she added, "but I'll tell you, after 30 years of this, you calm down after a while. To me, he's just a very talented boy and a very good son."
"Musical 'Movin' Out' Has A Lot Goin' On"
By: Elysa Gardner
(October 25th, 2002)
For years, younger musical theatre composers have lifted ideas from rock and roll. Isn't it time that more pop songwriters got in on the action?
Billy Joel seems like a particularly deserving candidate, since he's in a relatively small group of rock stars who appreciate what show tunes sounded like before the 1960s. You could even argue that his neatly crafted, melody-driven songs owe a greater debt to Tin Pan Alley than, say, the Rolling Stones.
But unlike touring partner Elton John, Joel hasn't written an original musical - not yet, anyway.
New musical "Movin' Out," which opened Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, was conceived by choreographer Twyla Tharp, using many of Joel's already instantly recognizable hits.
However disparate their bodies of work, Tharp and Joel share one quality that makes "Movin' Out" logical: a proud, willful populism. For all her progressive cachet, Tharp has always been drawn to music, movement and concepts that appeal directly to the dreams and frustrations of everyday people. Lifting such folks from Joel's lyrics, she has constructed a plot that examines the emotional and cultural impact of Vietnam on a generation.
Tharp eschews dialogue, relaying all action and emotion through dance. But singer Michael Cavanaugh helps connect the dots by performing songs from a platform above the stage, backed by a rock band that also samples Joel's instrumental music.
The results can border on sensory overload. In one scene, principal dancers - among them the spectacularly athletic John Selya and Keith Roberts - interact as others masquerade as soldiers and cheerleaders, and the effect is more dizzying than dazzling.
Tharp also can tap too heavily into the sentimental and bombastic aspects of Joel's writing. Her hyperactive staging of "We Didn't Start The Fire" and a subsequent post-Vietnam nightmare sequence could have benefited from more restraint. But there are glimmers of loveliness in "Just The Way You Are" and an exuberant medley of "The River of Dreams" and "Keeping The Faith" that may surprise even Joel's most ardent fans.
And hey, at least you'll leave the theatre humming. How often can you say that at a new musical?
"Billy Joel's 'Movin' Out'"
(October 25th, 2002)
Thursday night in Manhattan, Billy Joel was a "Big Shot" once again as he stepped out for the opening night of "Movin' Out," the brand-new Broadway musical that showcases all of his tunes. "Entertainment Tonight" was there to catch all the action as the "Piano Man" brought daughter Alexa out for his big night! "It's almost like an out-of-body experience," Billy remarked.
Conceived, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp ("Hair," "White Nights"), "Movin' Out" is a new dance musical about two friends whose lives in the final decades of the 20th century are paralleled by Billy's music. There are 28 classic Billy songs in all, including "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "She's Got A Way," and "Captain Jack."
Some fine celebrities who braved the crisp fall chill to catch the musical were fellow rocker Rod Stewart, Patrick Swayze, and Rosie O'Donnell.
The night marked a high point for Billy's career, as earlier this year he checked into a substance abuse and psychiatric hospital in Connecticut "to deal with a specific and personal problem that had recently developed," according to his publicist. Billy assured us last night that he was doing well, and was just thrilled to be there with his daughter: " She's a better pianist that I am!" Alexa reported in after the show: "I expected it to be great but I was blown away by it!"
In March, Billy also had to reschedule a joint concert tour with Elton John, citing inflamed vocal cords, an acute upper respiratory infection and laryngitis.
"Billy and Twyla and Wow!"
By: Jacques Le Sourd
(October 25th, 2002)
"Movin' Out," which opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, gives Broadway the jolt of genuine energy it needed this season.
In a word, the show's a blast.
It is a non-stop dance piece by the great choreographer Twyla Tharp, to the music of Billy Joel.
The Joel vocals are faithfully executed - but not slavishly imitated - by a vibrant 29 year-old singer named Michael Cavanaugh.
There is a vague narrative line in the show, but the story isn't really the point. The point is dance, rendered with the tactile muscularity that is the Tharp signature.
This is not Tharp's Broadway debut: In 1981, she staged the impressive "Catherine Wheel" to the music of David Byrne.
At 61 she is, of course, widely respected as one of the leading lights of American dance, and has headed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance, since 1965.
But her dances are still like no one else's. They go from formal balletic pairings to bruising battles of bodies in ceaseless motion, with a formidable grace as their visual baseline.
They are incredibly difficult and demanding to do, and they are brilliantly executed here by a cast of seasoned Tharp dancers.
Here she takes on some 30 years of memorable songs by Joel, including "Uptown Girl," "Big Shot" and "Only The Good Die Young." She uses 29 songs in all, including the best-known ones, and (much to Joel's credit) there isn't a clinker in the bunch.
These songs made Joel, now 53, the bard of Long Island, its answer to New Jersey's (much darker) Bruce Springsteen.
You realize how many of these songs are etched on your brain, even if you didn't particularly think of yourself as a Joel fan going into the show.
A great 10-piece rock band, with Cavanaugh sitting Joel-like center stage at the grand piano, sits on a highly mobile electric platform whose home is above the dance action. But sometimes the whole thing swoops down to take a more central position.
Santo Loquasto's very high-tech set, with visible elevators on each side, is a presence in motion onstage, though it mostly gets out of the way to let the dancers dance.
Donald Holder's lighting is spectacular, sometimes enveloping the whole theater in massive lighting effects.
Suzy Benziger's costumes are precisely on point, too, and we get from them a sense of the sweep of history over 40 years.
The loose story line follows a group of Long Island friends from their innocent high school days in the early '60s, through the transforming trauma of the Vietnam War, to something approaching present-day health for those who survived the war.
Early on there is a full-sized red Mustang on stage, which manages to be part of the dance.
A central couple is Brenda (the dazzling Elizabeth Parkinson at the evening performances) and Tony (Keith Roberts), who come together, break apart, and ultimately come together again (in a dazzling pas de deux to "Shameless") after decades of obsession with each other.
John Selya, meanwhile, plays Eddie, who becomes a junkie after his Vietnam experience and suffers years of disorientation: At one point the ghosts of his Vietnam buddies rise up like the revolutionaries in "Les Miserables."
He finally rejoins the living with a combination of rigorous jogging (at this point he wears a track suit and headband) and the romantic attentions of Judy (Ashley Tuttle), who has been left a widow by the war.
Benjamin G. Bowman is James, of the eponymous song ("We were always friends/From our childhood days").
What may surprise the older members of the audience is to see Scott Wise, once Broadway's premier chorus dancer (he was featured in 13 Broadway shows, and won the Tony Award for "Jerome Robbins Broadway" in 1989), now relegated to the non-dancing roles of policeman, drill sergeant and bartender.
Wise is listed, however, as the show's assistant director and assistant choreographer.
There is a 12-member dance ensemble, some of whose members stand in for the leads at matinee performances.
This is far from the first Broadway show to consist entirely of dancing. Bob Fosse choreographed "Dancin'" in 1978 and was the subject of the posthumous "Fosse" some 20 years later. There was Tharp's own "Catherine Wheel," and most recently "Contact," the long-running, all-dancing show by Susan Stroman.
But "Contact" was done to a hodgepodge of old records - while the Joel score gives this piece a strong musical identity and a unity of sound that "Contact" didn't have. Also, Stroman's Broadway dances clearly were not on a level with Tharp's dance-recital choreography.
The story it sketches is a baby boomer's tale, but Tharp wants you to be able to project your personal story on it without effort.
This is, of course, the show to take your non-English-speaking friends to.
But just about anybody under 50 would be energized by this remarkable marriage of song and story, which ultimately may represent the essence of Twyla Tharp more than that of Billy Joel.
Note that the longer second act is far superior to the short first act, as the dancers literally take off on the wings of what remains Joel's irresistibly propulsive music.
"'Piano Man' With Legs"
'Movin' Out' Makes Billy Joel's Music Dance
By: Peter Marks
(October 26th, 2002)
The man seated behind me in the Richard Rodgers Theatre was a little confused. "Billy Joel is in this, right?" he whispered to his date as the house lights dimmed.
The answer to his question, in point of fact, was a definitive no and an emphatic yes. No, Joel does not appear in "Movin' Out," Twyla Tharp's exhilarating new rock and roll ballet. And yes, absolutely, Joel is authentically represented in every fevered jete and pounding piano riff of this brisk and surprisingly touching show based on Joel's music, a production that heralds the news that breath-stopping choreography is once again thriving on Broadway.
Joel's jukebox of hit songs, from "The Stranger" to "We Didn't Start The Fire," is not a natural foundation for a musical; on the whole, the songs are mood rather than character pieces. Yet they provide exactly the right motif for the wrenching story, set in the '60s, that Tharp so imaginatively knits together (even if there are gaps in the storytelling here and there).
And in the effort to conjure a period through music, hers is a far more compelling technique than is employed in sentimental efforts like, for instance, the NBC dramatic series "American Dreams." Nostalgia is not what Tharp is after. She summons instead the wired, incendiary air of an epoch spinning out of control.
Having found a core group of dancers with the interpretive and athletic prowess for this tricky assignment, Tharp takes the narrative device of the Tony-winning dance play "Contact" - using pop songs as the basis of a dance musical that's performed without dialogue - and refines it further. Unlike "Contact," "Movin' Out" has live music, in the form of a 10-piece band suspended over the stage on a hydraulic platform, a kind of concert in the clouds. The featured performer is a piano man, the accomplished Michael Cavanaugh, a Joel sound-alike who sings the bulk of the score accompanied by guitar, drums, sax and brass. (Interspersed are recordings of a few of Joel's lesser-known - and less interesting - works in a classical vein.)
Beneath the platform, the cadre of dancers shimmies, karate-kicks and even moonwalks through Tharp's story, which is inspired largely by Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." That song, about young heartbreak on Long Island, supplies the show with its leading characters: Brenda (Elizabeth Parkinson) and Eddie (John Selya). Their break-up sets in motion events that bring together their friends Tony (Keith Roberts), Judy (Ashley Tuttle) and James (Benjamin G. Bowman) for a series of romantic entanglements, but the central focus remains on the extraordinary Selya, whose Eddie progresses from aimless roustabout to disaffected Army vet to self-assured grown-up.
The production's eclectic, high-energy style is a catalogue of modern movement, the kinds of steps you see everywhere, from the stage of a modern dance company to reruns of the '60s variety show "Hullabaloo." In an early sequence, Tharp even parodies the famous music video of "Uptown Girl," assigning Parkinson the role of the strutting model that Joel's then-future, now-former wife, Christie Brinkley, played in the video.
The most powerful portion of the show unfolds in a series of vignettes in Vietnam, where Eddie, Tony and James are sent together to serve in a frontline unit. Their devastating experiences in the war, and the aftershocks that propel some of them into dissolute lives back home, are rendered in a moving sequence of songs, including "Captain Jack," "An Innocent Man" and "Pressure." It is around this last number that Tharp builds the evening's climax - a piece that might be labeled a flashback ballet.
In a dream, Eddie relives the horror of the war, conjured with the help of Donald Holder's evocative lighting. A Southeast Asian bar girl gyrates in a corner of the stage as a fallen comrade of Eddie's materializes to dance beside him. It's a stunning effect: Onstage, we get the embodiment of Eddie's grief.
For a Broadway audience, Selya (a member of Tharp's New York company, Twyla Tharp Dance) is the discovery here; his presence is reminiscent of Gene Kelly's. It's a masculine performance, never lapsing into balletic loveliness. Roberts is terrific as a friend with not a serious bone in his body, and Tuttle is equally good as a young woman introduced prematurely to widowhood.
At times, "Movin' Out" does stray a bit from complete coherence, and the episodic quality of a show constructed from a record playlist involves too many stops and starts. Yet Tharp has done an impressive job of matching a physical language to the driving rhythms and musical personality of a pop composer. It's not just a dance up there on the stage but a provocative moment in time.
"Review: Broadway's 'Movin' Out' Sizzles With Emotionally Charged Dances Set To Billy Joel Songs"
By: Lawson Taitte
(October 26th, 2002)
Don't ask what "Movin' Out" is. Just find a way to see it. It provides more gut-wrenching lows and more spirit-lifting highs than anything Broadway has seen in years.
The Great White Way has offered other all-dance shows lately - the British "Swan Lake" and "Contact." "Movin' Out" falls into that category. Only this time the choreography makes it a masterpiece.
Twyla Tharp has taken 28 familiar songs by Billy Joel and put dances to them. Nobody talks. A single singer, Michael Cavanaugh, covers the Joel tunes in a voice that recalls the songwriter's but doesn't slavishly imitate him.
There's a story. Five friends graduate from high school. A young woman switches her affections from one guy to another. The remaining couple gets married.
The lead dancers were recruited from ballet companies, though they have been working with Ms. Tharp for the last two years. In this opening section, sometimes their moves seem stiff and too conventionally balletic.
But then the three men enlist and go fight in Vietnam, and all hell breaks loose. Early in her career, Ms. Tharp invented a dance vocabulary of twists and thrusts and collapses that uniquely conveys a world of pain and inner torment. As soon as the soldiers disembark, the show reverts to her modern-dance style and becomes riveting.
At intermission, you wonder whether there's enough of an underlying myth here to equal the power of Matthew Bourne's haunting Swan Lake. No worries. Ms. Tharp is telling the story of someone who's gone to hell - and back. Her hero, played by John Selya, crashes when he returns from the war. He lives on the streets. He frequents sadomasochistic bars.
Eventually, though, he begins to heal, as do the other characters. He's like "Orpheus" - only he gets the promise of joy when he returns from the "Underworld."
All these fabulous dancers outdo themselves, but Mr. Selya is on another level yet. He gives one of the classic dance performances of all time - something you can tell your grandkids you got to see, like Nijinsky or Baryshnikov.
Ms. Tharp's long dance piece "Catherine Wheel" starts out with a grim story but culminates in one of the longest, most exuberant finales ever. Without repeating herself, she does the same thing here. "Movin' Out" leaves you gasping for air. You're not supposed to feel this much - this bad or this good - at a mere Broadway show.
Obviously this is a must-see for Billy Joel fans or dance mavens. But the appeal of "Movin' Out" stretches farther - to regular theatergoers and beyond.
"Dance Review: In New York, A 'Dramedy' By Tharp and Joel"
By: Elizabeth Zimmer
(October 27th, 2002)
Twyla Tharp is the undisputed alchemist of American dance, a master at melding ballet and contemporary styles with vernacular expressions that range from ballroom to break-dancing. Billy Joel, who began pumping out Top 40 hits 30 years ago, captured the mood of the country with his plaintive and angry songs.
On Thursday at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre, the pair opened "Movin' Out," a rock-'em, sock-'em dance "dramedy" directed and choreographed by Tharp that's set in a Long Island supermarket parking lot, the jungle of Vietnam and some bars. Its period, from 1965 until the mid-'80s, is ably evoked by designers Santo Loquasto (sets), Donald Holder (lighting) and Suzy Benzinger (the sexy costumes).
A hard-driving, 10-man rock band sits on a moving platform that floats over the stage, with a drummer in a plexiglass cage and a Billy Joel clone, Michael Cavanaugh, singing and pounding a grand piano.
Underneath, some of the best dancers in America dedicate themselves to Tharp's vision, notably John Selya, a beefy, pumped guy who functions here the way Gene Kelly does in his films - as a working-class hero, a mechanic named Eddie who glories in his own smooth moves. (In the second cast, which plays matinees, William Marrie offers an excellent but quite different interpretation; he's more the show dancer, less the lug.)
Eddie loses his girl, his car, his best friend, and his mental balance as the 90-minute, two-act show unfolds. He and the other stellar dancers perform all this with hardly a spoken word. Elizabeth Parkinson plays Brenda, the "Uptown Girl" he loses and who smolders in her difficult relationship with his best friend Tony, danced by longtime Tharp star Keith Roberts.
Ashley Tuttle is Judy, the sweet girl who loses her lover James (danced by Benjamin Bowman) in the war, and Scott Wise plays both a friendly beat cop and a vicious, homophobic drill sergeant.
Tharp has mined the pop vernacular before, in her 1973 Deuce Coupe to music by the Beach Boys, and in 1981's sublime "Nine Sinatra Songs," ballroom duets set to a catalog of masterful tunes. But these works, and her several dances to classic jazz, were roughly half an hour long, riding their scores to high levels of choreographic excitement, fusing ballet with rock, swing and ballroom styles.
"Movin' Out" is no exception. A dance fan's dream, it's Tharp at her best, incorporating even break dancing and the electric boogaloo. But she's tried to string Joel's strident songs into something like a coherent plot, an attempt that backfires.
A bunch of friends bond, break up, get engaged; the guys enlist in the army and wind up in Vietnam. One dies; the others suffer trauma and dislocation, drugs and kinky sex. After a while they all get on with their lives.
Tharp convincingly reproduces the nightmare of war with fewer than a dozen guys and a battered tank, and builds a deliciously lascivious duet for Parkinson and Roberts to "Shameless."
In a pivotal Act II number the program calls "Eddie Attains Grace," the beleaguered hero finally appears to have shaken his demons. The agent of his transformation? Jogging. Delivered from the chaos of the '60s, from war and drugs and shattered romantic dreams, he's left with and redeemed by endorphins, clean-cut clothes, and his buddy the beat cop.
For some, this resolution will seem adequate. But to those who believe the social changes wrought in the '60s, spearheaded by the so-called counterculture, were genuine and deep, the denouement rings more than a little hollow.
Endorphins may get you through the day and a bottle of champagne through the night, but a real vision for the future - at this particular fraught moment in global politics - is missing from the stage, as it is from most of our current political discourse. The lessons of Vietnam, so affectingly enacted in "Movin' Out," seem to have been lost.
"Revamped 'Movin' Out' Opens"
By: Chris Jones
(October 28th, 2002)
"Movin' Out," the beleaguered Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel theatrical collaboration that tried out at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago this spring, has opened on Broadway to generally positive reviews - including an all-important enthusiastic notice in The New York Times.
The warm critical response is a significant vindication for Tharp. Following the show's lukewarm reviews after the Chicago opening, Tharp radically revised her dance-driven attempt to forge a cohesive narrative from Joel compositions.
Here's A Sample of the New York Reviews:
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "Ms. Tharp and her vivid team of dancers unearth the reasons certain cliches keep resonating and, more important, make them gleam as if they had just been minted. In chronicling the stories of five blue-collar friends from their glory days in high school through the Vietnam War and its long hangover, 'Movin' Out' vibrates with a riveting uneasiness. The show translates the subliminal anxiety you always feel watching dancers onstage...into a study of characters who cannot find equilibrium. They are adolescents jolted out of their expected roles...before they have had a chance to form their identities."
Clive Barnes, New York Post: "They can call...'Movin' Out' a musical until they're blue in the face. But if it looks like a ballet, sounds like a ballet, feels like a ballet and dances like a ballet - it is a ballet, the first full-evening Broadway ballet, at least since Matthew Bourne's 'Swan Lake' a few years back got Broadway's feet wet."
Howard Kissel, New York Daily News: "Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: The dancing in 'Movin' Out' is spectacular. Twyla Tharp's choreography to music by Billy Joel is extraordinarily demanding, but her young dancers perform it with astonishing commitment and energy."
"Theatre: Movin' To Broadway"
Twyla Tharp Heads Uptown With Billy Joel
By: Cathleen McGuigan
(October 28th, 2002)
In Twyla Tharp's very first public performance, back in 1965, she danced briefly to Petula Clark’s pop hit "Downtown." No one covered the event. "I was really pissed," Tharp recalled over breakfast last week, still sounding a little irritated. "I would’ve taken a really foul review."
Since then, Tharp has continued to blast the boundaries between high and low art. She put ballerinas in tennis shoes, and choreographed for American Ballet Theatre. She made dances for movies and her own company, using music by Mozart or the Beach Boys with equal flair. No one ignores her now. This week Tharp faces the critics again when she opens "Movin' Out," a hugely ambitious $8 million Broadway show she conceived, choreographed and directed to the music of Mr. "Uptown Girl," Billy Joel.
Both Tharp and Joel are quick to say that "Movin' Out" is not a musical in the conventional sense. "We can’t come up with a name for what this is," says Tharp. "This is not a book musical; we do not have book scenes." Or dialogue. But the show has characters and a narrative line, expressed in dance, that Tharp has pieced together from Joel's songs. "Movin' Out" follows a group of working-class baby boomers from New York's Long Island, who couple and uncouple, and endure the destructive forces of Vietnam and the counterculture. Joel's songs - from the more innocent "Uptown Girl" to the darker "Prelude/Angry Young Man" and "Goodnight Saigon" - are played by a live rock band, as Tharp's crew dances the action in her famously eclectic style, from the sweet and balletic to the violently kinetic. "I always felt Billy could do a Broadway show, and a Broadway show was something that always interested me," says Tharp. Two years ago she called him and proposed the idea. "I didn’t want to do something like this before," said Joel, on the phone from his boat off Long Island. "People have sent me cornball, clichéd scripts about 'Piano Man' or 'Uptown Girl.' But Twyla approached me about choreographing to the music, and I thought it was a natural." Tharp had choreographed some of Joel's music, and he went to see it. "I was really moved," he says. "The dancers had become these people in the songs."
It's an intriguing concept, if tough to pull off. In the Chicago tryout, "Movin’ Out" was hammered by some critics. Tharp rolled up her sleeves and began "pruning," especially the problematic first act. Friends such as director Mike Nichols offered suggestions. Joel himself had weighed in early, recommending musicians for the band, including a singer/piano player Joel saw in Vegas who's his doppelgnger in the show. "But Twyla made the ultimate decisions," he says with a laugh. "If you stand in Twyla's way, you die!"
Tharp's choreography always lets her dancers' personalities emerge, which is critical for a show like this where the characters don't speak. Six of the principals have toured with Tharp's company, and they've got her demanding technique nailed - you're not likely to see such virtuosity on any other Broadway stage. Still, Tharp's been bruised on Broadway before: she took a critical beating for her 1985 staging of "Singin' In The Rain." But the fate of "Movin' Out" is more likely in the hands of fans than critics. To anyone who thinks Joel's and Tharp's fans couldn't overlap, Twyla has this to say: "The guy on the street has always been my hero, just the way the guy on the street has always been Billy Joel's hero." Tharp at 61 is as determined as ever. She even says she's likely to perform again herself. "I know only this - You never say no to anything."
"She's Got Way"
What Sounds Like Billy Joel (On A Roll) and Looks Like Twyla Tharp (On A Tear)? Movin' Out, Tharp's Sexually Charged, Full-Throttle Dance Show Based On Billy's Greatest Hits. Is It A New Kind of Broadway Musical? She'll Let You Decide.
By: Laura Shapiro
(October 28th, 2002)
The audience in Chicago's Shubert Theatre is on its feet yelling, and choreographer Twyla Tharp stands up, too, scrawling notes and intently watching the curtain calls amid the commotion. The instant the house lights go up, she scrambles to get backstage; then, after a few quick meetings, she's out the stage door and racing toward her hotel, talking every second of the way. She's not in any hurry. She's just thinking. But thinking is something she likes to do aloud and at top speed, a little as if she were bulldozing a building for the fun of it.
"What are we going to call it? What is it? Is there a word?" she keeps demanding. She's been eavesdropping - some people in the audience are confused by the show. The newspaper ads call it "a new musical," but there's no dialogue to convey the story, not even a voice-over like the one that drove the action in Contact. This show is all dancing, fueled by a rock band performing songs by Billy Joel. "You know what it is?" she says at a street corner, eyes darting as she waits impatiently for the light to change. "It's a full-length. That's what it is. It's a full-length ballet. But you can't call it that." Sure you can, if your goal is two weeks at Lincoln Center and a faithful audience of ballet lovers. Tharp's show, however, is headed for Broadway - eight performances a week, top ticket price $95, no margin for error. What is it?
"Movin' Out," as the ads now make clear, is a Broadway show, period. No handle at all. "Actually, that was Billy's suggestion," says Tharp, scarfing down take-out sushi in midtown last week. "Just use the title, and let everybody else call it whatever they want." Good idea, because this hybrid defies all categories. It certainly doesn't look like a full-length ballet - not with a ten-man band headed by Michael Cavanaugh pounding away from a platform overhead so that the music is right smack within the frame of the dancing. (The danseur noble who enters driving a '67 Mustang doesn't exactly evoke Sleeping Beauty, either.) Tharp chose 29 of Joel's songs, putting them in a sequence that allows both words and music to generate a story line about the sixties and their aftershocks. Vietnam is at the center of the narrative, but through and around the war, we see high-school kids from Long Island growing up and crashing headlong into America.
Often the choreography mirrors the lyrics; sometimes Tharp just rides the music. She stages the straightforward love song "She's Got A Way," for instance, as a wistful duet for four. The two lovers - one in Vietnam, the other back home - never touch or even see each other. Each is partnered by somebody else. "I said, 'You know, Billy, I'm destroying the context of your songs,' " says Tharp. "He said, 'Fine, go for it.' "
Tharp has always wanted movement to be the chief storyteller in this show, but for a while she was encouraging the dancers to speak up, too. "We had a lot of yelling and screaming going on," she admits. "You get energy from that. I said okay, this is good, we need more." She kept piling it on, until a woman in the audience was glimpsed covering her ears, then her eyes, then her ears again. That gave Tharp pause. Finally, Jerome Robbins, who died four years ago but remains a trusted source of wisdom for Tharp, convinced her she was overwhelming the audience with too much information coming from too many directions.
"Jerry and I used to carry on this argument all the time," she recalls. "He said, 'You can't talk in dance.' I said, 'Jerry, you're so old-fashioned, of course you can talk in dance.' He said, 'It does not work.' So here's Jerry in Chicago, sitting over here, and he's just grinning and saying nothing. Shaking that head from time to time. All right, Jerry, all right. This time they have to shut up."
So they shut-up and danced. Meanwhile, the first reviews came in: The Chicago critics loved the dancing, but they couldn't follow the story. Tharp lined up all the reviews, studied them, and sprang into action. "I'm going, Okay, these are the specific confusion points, break them out, break them down, confront them, analyze them, and say yea or nay," she says. "Some of them I thought were wrong, some of them I said, 'You're absolutely right, this is not reading as intended. Fix it.' It's like in fairy tales, there's always the one jewel hidden by many brambles. The challenge is always to take away the dross and leave that thing. That's what editing is about, and that's what this process is." By the time the show went into previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it opens officially on October 24th, 2002, she had cleared away acres of brambles. But she's still eavesdropping on the audience to find out if the jewel is visible.
Tharp knows she stands accused of ambition, commercialism, and every other sin against art, but she's always believed that good dance belongs in people's lives right next to eating and sunsets and baseball. Any delivery system that works is fine with her. She's fielding spectacular performers, including mile-high Elizabeth Parkinson, whose legs alone deserve a dressing room with a star on the door, and John Selya, already one of those Tharp immortals (Baryshnikov was another), who embodies her wildest movement ideas with such wit and clarity it's as if he's channeling her.
"Everybody who is looking to go 'Sell-Out! Compromise!' can just get over it," she says. "You show me this year a better pas de deux than 'Shameless.' Anywhere, on any stage in the world. You show me a better operatic sequence in dance than 'Goodnight Saigon.'" Last week, she talked to a man in the audience who told her he came because he's a Billy Joel fan. By the end of the show, he was a convert, transfixed by the dancing. But is it art that did the trick? "You tell me," Tharp fires back. She loves demolishing this question. "I just think dance is very grand. And I think it's very, very capable - dance can express anything. So you tell me if it's art."
"Joel's Movin' Out Dazzles On Broadway"
By: Richard Ouzounian
(October 28th, 2002)
People have been debating whether to call "Movin' Out" a musical, a dancical, or a pop ballet. Forget those definitions.
All you need to know is that it's the hottest show on Broadway.
Twenty-four songs by Billy Joel combine with the choreography of Twyla Tharp and a knockout cast of dancers to create something that is much more than the sum of its parts - even though those parts are pretty damned impressive on their own.
Start with Joel's music and lyrics. We've known them for 25 years and come to take them for granted.
Sure, the music is great, with its get-under-your-skin rhythms and stick-inside-your-head melodies, while the lyrics have a conversational wit and a street-smart poetry that endures.
But Joel was also tracking what it meant to be alive during the last quarter of the 20th century.
He was a novelist - bringing characters and places and events to thrilling life - only he did it all in song.
The music in the show has wisely been brought back in a style you might call "Fantasy Joel." There's the driving rhythm section and testosterone-soaked brass that gave his albums their gritty appeal.
But all the songs are sung at the piano by a young man named Michael Cavanaugh who is mightily impressive, but no mere Joel clone. He's more boyishly endearing, both in looks and voice. He's got the leather lungs and the brass larynx that the tougher material demands, but on the sweeter stuff, he plays it warmer than Joel ever did.
That's only right, because Tharp's vision is that the people in this world have to travel from innocence to reality right down through rock-bottom disillusionment before coming out the other end at hope.
To accomplish this, she's strung together a sort of plot, and it's probably the weakest thing about "Movin' Out."
Simply put, there are three buddies on Long Island in the mid 1960s: Eddie, Tony and James. (One lyric was changed to accomplish this and Brenda and Eddie now go steady in 1965, instead of the original decade later.)
Eddie loves Brenda and leaves her. She finds Tony. James marries Judy, and then all the guys go to Vietnam. James dies there, Tony and Eddie fall apart, but finally redeem their lives.
Stating it baldly like that, it has all the appeal of twice-chewed gum, but the story works as metaphor more than as a typical narrative. Think of it as the elastic band holding a pack of the brightest theatrical trading cards you've ever seen, and you'll be just fine.
You come to a show like this to see what a genius like Tharp will do and she doesn't disappoint. Bodies hurl through the air with impossible grace, men move with a frightening bravado that surpasses mere athleticism and women possess a sensual grace that nurtures and arouses at the same time.
Images linger in your mind long after the event: Brenda climbing down a staircase made of horny men during "Uptown Girl," Eddie spinning madly on an invisible axis during "Pressure," or Tony, swaying in two different directions at the same time during "She's Got A Way."
But work like that doesn't happen without a superb company and "Movin' Out" is blessed with one of the best.
Keith Roberts floats in near-pastoral beauty as the fuzzy-headed Tony until after he's been through Vietnam. Then he changes to something totally different - cold and angular with a bone-chilling emptiness.
Elizabeth Parkinson may very well be the single most spectacular woman to grace a Broadway stage in recent memory. Wearing a fringed hot-pink dress that fits better than most people's skin (bravo to costume designer Suzy Benzinger), she glides and swirls through the action like the promise of perfect sensual fulfillment.
She's a knockout.
The star of the show (and its moral centre), is John Selya as Eddie. He starts out like a young Tony Danza, all good times and loose ends, but after Vietnam, those loose ends start unravelling.
Selya's physical dexterity is heart-stopping, but his acting is right up there with his dancing skill. He communicates every shade of despair with subtlety and power.
One hallucinatory sequence set to "Goodnight Saigon" is where "Movin' Out" takes off into the stratosphere. Joel's song is one of his most knowing ("We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors tapes"), Tharp gives us nightmarish images of remembered wartime horror, Donald Holder's lighting takes us to another dimension and Selya performs with a total commitment that anchors it all.
It's one of those moments in the theatre you will never forget.
"These are not the best of times," says one Joel lyric in the show, "but they're the only times I've ever known."
And "Movin' Out" captures them perfectly.
"Billy Joel Transitions Onto Broadway"
By: David Clements
(October 29th, 2002)
Since 1971, Billy Joel has been wowing audiences with songs such as "Piano Man," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," and "Uptown Girl." Recently, his music has moved beyond the radio to Broadway. In recent years, Billy Joel has spent most of his creative energy writing classical compositions and touring with British pop musician, Elton John. The Broadway musical "Movin' Out" represents Mr. Joel's first new project involving his popular music since 1993.
The musical is the creation of award-winning choreographer, Twlya Tharp. The idea for the musical was born when Ms. Tharp arranged some dances to several of Billy Joel's songs. She later contacted the songwriter and invited him to see her arrangements. Mr. Joel recalls his initial apprehensions. "She came to me originally and said, 'I want to show you some choreography I've done to your work." I said, 'OK' coming in, not knowing what to expect, thinking it could be a cringe-fest, and I saw these beautifully choreographed dances of my music, I said, 'Of course! This is a perfect medium. This a great genre for my music to live in.'"
Billy Joel, a five-time Grammy winner, has been approached many times in the past by people hoping to put his music on Broadway. And no one has ever been able to convince him it was a good idea, until Twyla Tharp. Mr. Joel was so impressed with Ms. Tharp's theatrical vision that he has given her permission to use any of his compositions for "Movin' Out."
"This was something different," he says. "This came from left field. It wasn't necessarily based on a book. It was based on the lyrics to my songs being the dialog to a show that was danced. So what you have is a band playing the music. A guy playing the piano and singing the songs above the action and the dancers are the characters from the songs... Brenda and Eddie, and Anthony, Judy and James. One of the questions Twlya asked me from the beginning was, 'What ever happened to Brenda and Eddie after this? What did Anthony do? Where did these people end up?' And I said, 'I don't know.'"
"Movin' Out" attempts to answer those nagging questions left in Billy Joel's lyrics. Mr. Joel's music often involves telling very personal stories about slices of American life. He can make you feel that the characters in his songs are not just people he's met over the years, but the kind of people we've all known at one time or another.
Billy Joel's says his style of musical storytelling has made for a smooth transition to Broadway. "Actually I was writing little musicals when I was doing my albums anyway. A lot of the albums have a theme. There's a beginning, middle and an end and they're stories in their own right."
"Movin' Out" doesn't follow a single Billy Joel album or theme. It pulls songs and characters from many different albums spanning the songwriter's twenty-two years as a popular music composer. While the Broadway musical does attempt to put a face on some of the characters in Joel's music, Mr. Joel himself says that the show will not detract from any of the songs' personal meaning. Rather, he says that for his fans, it will bring new dimensions to the characters he sings about.
When Billy Joel isn't spending time watching "Movin' Out" on Broadway, he'll be continuing his world tour with fellow "Piano Man," Elton John. Mr. Joel adds that he still has a lot more songwriting that he wants to do. He's expressed interest in writing more classical music. He's even toyed with the idea of writing an entirely new Broadway show.
"Broadway Dances To The Music of Joel"
By: Barbara D. Phillips
(October 29th, 2002)
Before you shell out as much as $95 to see "Movin' Out," which opened Thursday at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre, you should ask yourself a few basic questions.
Does the thought of a sound-alike belting and pounding out about two-dozen of Billy Joel's songs on a piano, backed by a highly skilled but very highly amped band, get your pulse racing in happy anticipation? Or does the mere idea threaten to give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack or at least a mild headache?
Do you demand that an event billed as a "musical" have more of a story than can be summed up, quite sufficiently, in the Playbill's brief Plot Synopsis? Are you tired of Vietnam War vet cliches and blue-collar boomer angst?
Will the fact that the show's main characters never utter a word or sing a note leave you saying, "It seems such a waste of time if that's what it's all about"? Or are you satisfied to see a breathtakingly nimble group of dancers sweat to these oldies in what is, in reality, not a musical at all, but a full-length ballet directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp?
Your answers to these questions will largely determine whether you're likely to ask, with disappointment, "Is that all you get for your money?" or to rise in a standing ovation at "Movin' Out's" end.
As you may have already guessed, I am no Joel fan. The last of his songs that I loved was one of his first, "Piano Man," a work that hasn't found its way into "Movin' Out." So while many folks in the audience were clearly enthralled by the music, half of "Movin' Out's" appeal was lost on me from the start. And the assaultive amplification did nothing to change my mind. This despite the accomplished musicianship and singing of boyishly handsome Michael Cavanaugh and his backup band, who play directly to us on a scaffolding that is raised and lowered but spends most of its time perched above the dancers' heads.
And as the band plays on above, an all-too-familiar story plays out below, in the Long Island and Saigon of the 1960s and beyond. Eddie, James and Tony are pals in Hicksville. Eddie (John Selya) and his high-school sweetheart, Brenda (Elizabeth Parkinson), break up. James (Benjamin G. Bowman) finds love with Judy (Ashley Tuttle), as does Tony (Keith Roberts) with Eddie's ex, Brenda, who is now a fiercely independent "Uptown Girl." The guys go off to Vietnam - Scott Wise plays both a local cop, Sergeant O'Leary, and an Army drill sergeant - and James is killed, leaving Judy a grieving widow.
Eddie and Tony return home emotional wrecks - Tony can no longer connect with Brenda, and Eddie quickly plunges into a guilt-edged nightmare world of kinky sex and drugs amid the rock and roll. But by "Movin' Out's" end, Judy, in a jogging suit, helps Eddie find a way to mental and physical fitness, and Brenda and Tony manage to heal as well. (A different Joel stand-in and second set of lead dancers performs at the Wednesday and Saturday matinees.)
It is up to Ms. Tharp's dances and her dancers to find a way to cut through all the cliches and make us care. And too often in the first act I found myself impressed by the physical demands met by the dancers while annoyed by the leaden pace of the story and its unleavened earnestness. Scaffolding aside, the scenic design of the usually solid Santo Loquasto ("Grand Hotel") is sadly stolid this time - complete with a red Mustang convertible straight from the "American Graffiti" used-car lot. But matters improve markedly just before and after the intermission, as Ms. Tharp's dancers begin to convey disarray and dislocation with a hot, frenzied precision.
John Selya's Eddie is the prototypical Joel anti-hero as his blue-collar, ethnic swagger gives way to an angry, disillusioned sadness. Ms. Parkinson brings a purposeful, high-heeled strut, and sinewy, hard-edged sexiness to red-haired Brenda - her muscular calves speak volumes. And she meets her match in Mr. Roberts' Tony, he of the golden curls slicked down in 'Nam. The heat of their passionate kiss in "Shameless" could be felt all the way up in the (relatively) cheap seats.
Ms. Tuttle's dark-haired, waif-thin Judy is a delicate, detailed study in love, grief and forgiveness, and Mr. Bowman as James makes the most of his short-lived role. In the top-notch ensemble, Karine Bageot is a standout in a Tina Turneresque turn. And Suzy Benzinger's scene-setting costumes provide a needed dash of wit to a work that takes itself and its music very seriously indeed.
Tharp's Dancers Gleam On Broadway
By: Deborah Jowitt
(October 30th, 2002)
The night after I saw Twyla Tharp's "Movin' Out," I wished I were back in the Richard Rodgers Theatre watching it all over again, to be exhilarated by this bold choreographer's vision of dancers as Olympians who, moving with beauty and complexity, define heaven for the rest of us. I'd had doubts. Narrative has never been Tharp's strong suit. And here she was, fashioning a story out of tunes by one of our era's finest rock songwriters, Billy Joel. The Chicago reviews were daunting, Tharp made astute changes, and, as one New York preview ended, the audience rose as if electrically lifted to cheer this...what? Dansical? Not too accurate, since Joel's songs - beautifully delivered by singer-pianist Michael Cavanaugh and a powerhouse band - are the launching pad for Tharp's story and provide the evening's only words, igniting details that dancing - so good at emotional subtext - can't deal with.
Tharp, who conceived, directed, and choreographed the show, has cobbled a classic tale of ordeal and redemption, choosing as heroes the 1960s blue-collar high school friends who inhabit a couple of Joel's best early songs. John Selya and Elizabeth Parkinson are the Brenda and Eddie of "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"; Keith Roberts is the Tony of "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)." The triangle that develops among them is counterpointed by James (Benjamin Bowman) and Judy (Ashley Tuttle), whose love is deep and uncomplicated. Their hell is the Vietnam war, which kills James, leaves Judy bereft, spiritually maims Eddie and Tony, and turns Brenda into a desperate good-time girl. Eventually, those still living (and the town cop, Scott Wise) come together again in a zone of happiness where "a bottle of red, a bottle of white" with friends seems paradise enough.
Santo Loquasto's ingenious scenic design facilitates the flow Tharp sets up. The musicians sit on stage - width metal scaffolding that works like an elevator; fences, nightclub bars, a red Ford Mustang, and something resembling a destroyed tank slide on and off. Marching soldiers, fun for our guys to admire and imitate when there's not much going on in town, become a machine that sucks the three up and tosses them and the six ensemble men into plunging, vaulting, twitching carnage, along with Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" and Donald Holder's vivid lighting.
Act II is stronger, but throughout Tharp makes some terrifically expressive dances and telling encounters. (One misjudgment: Putting Ashley Tuttle on pointe makes Judy an alien in this world of complex, down-to-earth movers and tempts Tharp into such clichés as a wan, backward-bourréeing exit.) Her performers reward her in spades - Selya and Roberts are especially astonishing - giving not only sweat and tears and prowess, but the heart - deep intelligence of gristle, sinew, and bone. It isn't the passing of time that heals these people, but dancing as redemption.