Twyla Tharp is a perfectionist notorious for grueling rehearsals and pushing dancers to their very limits. It was never likely that this demanding artist would send out a cut-down, sub-par road company of her acclaimed Broadway dance show -- and indeed she hasn't. Show's B.O. prospects probably are being widely underestimated.

Corrections were made to this review on Feb. 11, 2004.

Twyla Tharp is a perfectionist notorious for grueling rehearsals and pushing dancers to their very limits. It was never likely that this demanding artist would send out a cut-down, sub-par road company of her acclaimed Broadway dance show — and indeed she hasn’t. The first national tour of “Movin’ Out” is populated by a younger crowd of dancers, but it sizzles with energy, vitality and class. We could use a few more like Tharp out here in el-cheapo road land. The show’s B.O. prospects probably are being widely underestimated — especially if Billy Joel’s hinterland-friendly face is smiling out from all those Sunday arts sections.

In many ways, a strong road “Movin’ Out” is especially good for many facets of the biz. Marketed right, this show could be a boon for contempo dance troupes all over the country. With Joel’s music giving men permission to show up with their dates for a dance show, it could help expand auds for dance. And based on the sold-out Motor City crowd, it attracts not hoity-toity subscribers with gray hair or the typical dance trendies, but a broader spectrum of regular folks. It’s not a show with demonstrable appeal to African-Americans (a problem made all the more acute by the strangely lily-white cast here), but it does attract a real clump of couples between 35 and 50. And that’s a tough-to-reach group the road badly needs in its seats.

To her great credit, Tharp remade this show during and after its Chi tryout, crafting a better-than-solid piece of dance theater that carves a cohesive narrative out of Joel’s pop canon. She kept its soul, but made the tale of Judy, Tony, Brenda and Eddie accessible. The story Tharp tells, of two young couples confronting the tumult of the late ’60s, is familiar and iconic, but she freshens it with a feast of counter-intuitive movement.

The impossibly tall, thin and pliable Holly Cruikshank has done the show a lot on Broadway — she was Brenda in the matinee cast — so her talents are both considerable and familiar. David Gomez, the matinee Tony, is on his way, but needs more oomph. The two standouts here are a diminutive, gorgeous dancer from Argentina, Julieta Gros, in the role of Judy — she’s a terrific actress with real dance chops, and a real future. And in the role of Eddie, the flashy, striking Ron Todorowski may be broader than John Selya, but he dances terrifically and connects directly with the audience in a rock-star fashion that ratchets up the show’s energy. It’s a typically shrewd piece of Tharp casting.

In part because the musician’s bridge doesn’t move up and down in the road show as it does in New York, lead vocalist Darren Holden has to work harder to connect with the audience. But he’s an excellent singer whose power is especially visible on the high-energy numbers (that’s the strength, overall, of this company). He wins the crowd over.

Overall, this is a uncommonly sexy, exuberant roadshow, with an ensemble that really knocks itself out. Maybe even Tharp can relax for a while.

Movin' Out

Fisher Theater; 2,100 seats; $72.50 top

Production

A James L. Nederlander, Hal Luftig, Scott E. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Clear Channel Entertainment and Emanuel Azenberg presentation of a musical in two acts conceived, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Music and lyrics by Billy Joel.

Creative

Sets, Santo Loquasto; costumes, Suzy Benzinger; lighting, Donald Holder; production stage manager, Eric Sprosty. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

With: Holly Cruikshank, Matthew Dibble, David Gomez, Julieta Gros, Laurie Kanyok, Brendan King, Corbin Popp, Ron Todorowski, Darren Holden, Matt Wilson, Alice Alyse, Kristne Bendul, Melanie Bergeron, Christopher Compton, Kim Craven, Jason DePinto, Tamara Dyke, Susanne Gorman, Cody Green, Charlie Hodges, Sean Maurice Kelly, Louise Madison, Barrett Martin, Eric Otto, Eric S. Robertson, Whitney Simler, Lynda Sing, Michael Snipe Jr., Eric Peter Spear, Andrew Turteltaub, Julie Voshell.

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