“Wasn’t this supposed to be a musical?” asks Billy Joel in his song “Where’s the Orchestra?” Though marketed as a musical, director-choreographer Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out is a two-act narrative ballet performed to live renditions of some two dozen of Joel’s pop hits. That makes it easy to pick at–“too Broadway,” “too dancey,” “too rock ‘n’ roll,” yada yada yada. But Tharp is surely used to such kvetching by now; her career has been all about melding genres and breaking down barriers. I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic fusion of dance, concert, and theater, brilliantly designed by Santo Loquasto (set), Donald Holder (lights), and Suzy Benzinger (costumes). The solid if derivative story follows a group of friends as they journey from the innocence of “romantic teenage nights” in the mid-60s through the carnage of Vietnam and the disillusioned decadence the war inspired at home. (I hated the characters finding happiness as yuppie joggers–all that’s missing is a Reagan for President poster–but I have to admit the ending works.) The cast–including veterans of Broadway, the Joffrey, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Tharp’s own troupe–is stellar, especially Keith Roberts and Elizabeth Parkinson as lovers Brenda and Tony (their turbulent duets sizzle with rage and sex), John Selya as Brenda’s ex Eddie (wracked with guilt and grief after his service in ‘Nam), and Benjamin Bowman and Ashley Tuttle as sweet, ill-fated James and Judy (their tender pas de deux, danced under a leafy bower to the strains of “Just the Way You Are,” is a highlight). The dancers’ elemental power and passion are matched by the extraordinary vocal stamina and expressiveness of singer-keyboardist Michael Cavanaugh, a Joel sound-alike who delivers plaintive and gritty renditions of the piano man’s best while leading a crack jazz-rock band. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400. Through September 1: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Sunday, July 28 and September 1, 2 PM only; additional matinees Wednesday, July 24 and August 28, 2 PM. $42-$77.50.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.