- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

The Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel “Movin’ Out,” playing at the National Theatre for the next few weeks, is a multifaceted feat. Part Broadway show with brilliant dancing and razzle-dazzle staging, part insightful look at the human cost of war, it reflects the paradoxical talents of its two creators.

Billy Joel didn’t actually participate in the creation of “Movin’ Out,” but the driving rhythms and provocative words of his songs provide the emotional spine of the story. His sung words, belted out with gusto Monday night by Darren Holden, are the only language heard all night.

From there it is Twyla Tharp’s show all the way. “Movin’ Out” reflects the extraordinary trajectory of her career — a serious artist focused like a laser beam on demanding, intricate choreography, some of it for the world’s major ballet companies; and a pop artist who made her breakthrough using Beach Boys music and graffiti for a Joffrey Ballet commission.

It all comes together in this show, which grabs the audience by the throat with the intensity and sheer bravado of its dancing and its sometimes heroic, sometimes bitter story of war and its aftermath.

The staging is electric right from the beginning, crisscrossing beams of light piercing the smoky haze and a full-throated band rocking on a platform set high above the stage. (In the Broadway version the platform descended to the stage several times, so the music became more front and center. In this touring version the accomplished musicians still have their moment to shine alone.)

The spectacular dancing is delivered in go-for-broke style by the excellent company, many of them second cast members from the original Broadway production.

In some ways this group — younger than the originators of the roles, who already had major careers under their belts — seems more involved in the drama of the story line.

The New York show still has one irreplaceable asset: the heart-stopping, mesmerizing performance of John Selya in the central role of Eddie. It has rocketed him to well-deserved stardom.

Playing the key role of Eddie here is Ron Todorowski, with David Gomez as his buddy Tony. Their acrobatic energy, dizzyingly speedy pirouettes and high-flying leaps were astounding. Matthew Dibble was fine as the third buddy.

Holly Cruikshank, memorable a few years ago as the Lady in Yellow in “Contact,” shone here in her much meatier role as Brenda. Tall and gorgeous, she has talent and energy to burn.

The part of Judy, played by Julieta Gros, is a lesser, less interesting role. It was created for Ashley Tuttle, a ballerina at American Ballet Theatre, and while it is interesting to see Ms. Tharp bring all kinds of dancing into play, ballet pales in this high-key context.

An alternate cast takes on these demanding roles at some shows each week.

The downward spiral prompted by their searing war experience brings the men who survived and the women who waited for them into gritty bouts of alienation, sadomasochism and drug abuse. The ending is fairly feel-good and facile, redeemed by some of the most ardent dancing of the evening.

The first Washington cast danced their hearts out at the press opening Monday night, which also was marked by the presence of Vietnam veterans, who have given Ms. Tharp an award for her compassionate portrayal of their story.

In one sense Ms. Tharp has appropriated Mr. Joel’s words and the veterans’ experience for her own purposes, but in a larger sense she has focused renewed interest on them, dramatized their efforts, and brought them the gift of her artistic insights.

The tragic pertinence of its subject is enlarging the experience of “Movin’ Out.”

Ms. Tharp finished the choreography the day before September 11, and it opened on Broadway a year later. The current situation in Iraq has made the Vietnam experience more relevant, as its importance in the recent campaign made clear.

At the time “Movin’ Out” was conceived, the focus was on the plight of the returning veterans from that long-ago war, but recent events have given America a more immediate sense of how deep and long lasting the scars of war can be.

For the last two years “Movin’ Out” has been addressing that epiphany.


WHAT: Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out”

WHEN: Tonight at 8 through Dec. 19

WHERE: National Theatre

TICKETS: $40 to $85

PHONE: 800/447-7400

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