`Movin' will have crowd grooving

Billy Joel-inspired musical is now at the Hippodrome

Theater Review

March 09, 2006|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Movin' Out moved into the Hippodrome Theatre this week, and while it's more of a dance/rock concert than a traditional musical, this Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel hybrid sends a jolt of electricity over the footlights.

There's no spoken dialogue in Movin' Out, and the cast of 17 dancers don't sing. Instead, the vocals are provided by smooth-voiced, hardworking pianist Darren Holden (whose place is taken by Matthew Friedman at alternate performances).

Three of the five principal characters are also played by alternating dancers, which is a good indication of the strenuousness of Tharp's choreography.

Audiences fortunate enough to see Rasta Thomas are in for a major treat. This hot, young international ballet superstar has been a principal dancer with companies ranging from the Dance Theatre of Harlem to the Kirov.

In Movin' Out, he plays Eddie, the epitome of the "Angry Young Man" (one of several songs that showcase his varied talents). From the start, Thomas' Eddie is feisty. There's even a frenzied quality when he expresses joy, such as the slick bit when he slides across the hood of a vintage red Triumph, to the ideal accompaniment of Holden playing a glissando.

And he's riveting when he expresses rage. A one-man West Side Story, Thomas is the Sharks and the Jets rolled into one. He doesn't just leap, he catapults. He doesn't just pirouette, he whirs.

Eddie is the character paired with Brenda in Joel's song "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" ("Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies ... "). Together with Tony, Judy and James, they are the lead characters in Movin' Out. Five blue-collar, Long Island teenagers, who start out as friends and group, grapple and regroup as the Vietnam War reshapes their futures.

Tharp's choreography, as much as Joel's music, defines their distinct personalities. For example, Laurie Kanyok's Brenda starts out a cheery, ponytailed teen, but after she and Eddie have a violent split, she conveys her freedom in an exuberant, loose-limbed solo to "Uptown Girl."

Like Eddie, however, Brenda has a temper that's never far from the surface, and in the second act her movements take on a jagged gymnastic quality as she dances, clad in denim hotpants and a metallic leather bra, and is tossed around to "Big Man on Mulberry Street."

Brenda's polar opposite in terms of personality is lady-like Judy, played in Baltimore by understudy Julie Voshell. Performing en pointe to "The Stranger" after Judy is widowed, Voshell dances with an angularity that is the visual representation of her character's broken heart.

As James, Eric Otto lacks some of the gracefulness of the other lead men, although "graceful" may be a bit misleading. This is muscular, athletic dancing. Keith Roberts, reprising his original Broadway role as Tony, captures the essence of it when, to the strains of "Big Shot," his character returns from Vietnam unable to reconnect with Brenda, or with mainstream society.

Just as the cast, a number of whom hail from the Broadway production, offers a polished, kinetic illustration of Tharp's style, so the nine-member onstage band does hard-driving justice to Joel's music (although the volume could be turned down a notch).

Tharp, who conceived, directed and choreographed Movin' Out, earned a Tony Award for her choreography. She may also have created a musical theater sub-genre. In her latest example, The Times They Are A-Changin', she grafts her distinctive dance vocabulary onto the songs of Bob Dylan. The new show is expected to open in New York in the fall. Following in Movin' Out's footsteps, it could be a further example of changing times on Broadway.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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