Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out

December 25, 2008
By Cassandra Duncanson, Worcester, MA

Having grown up on my parents’ tapes from their days, I am comfortable in saying that I am a Billy Joel fan. I grew up singing “For the Longest Time.” I proclaimed to the world that “[I] Didn’t start the Fire.” Given the opportunity to watch Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out” seemed like a great chance.
Conceptually, the musical seems perfection. There are about two lines of dialogue, Sergeant O’Leary (walkin’ the beat) shouting at the recently recruited friends “left, left, left, right, left.” The rest is a barrage of dancers and selected pieces of Joel’s.
It’s a bit of a sensory overload. One would think that having something to watch, while listening to the music of Billy Joel would result in something incredible.
Unfortunately, it didn’t
I was floored by the music: in awe. The music was unlike anything else, yet still akin to Billy Joel. As to the dancing: I was stunned. Despite this, the overall effect was too much. It was confusing to try and watch all the dancers and appreciate their art along with the musicians. It was only really feasible to either pay attention to the lyrics that were being sung high above the stage or the intricate dancers dancing (of which many were on stage at one time).
If you were to combine the dancing, dramatic emotions and the clothing of “Grease,” along with “Hair’s” subject matter, it would result in “Movin’ Out”. (Which comes as little surprise as Tharp worked on “Hair.”) While both are amazing musicals that I could probably watch until the end of time, they are not necessarily the end-all-be-all of musical combinations.
Five friends head off to Vietnam, while their significant others are left dealing with the aftermath, and the consequent life altering changes.
Set to Billy Joel’s music.
Seemingly, Tywla Tharp took Billy Joel’s “Essential Hits” and set them to what could have been the aftermath plot of “Hair.” In parts of the play, the combination of the select hits and the emotion evoked by the dancers worked beautifully enough to bring tears to my face.
When Judy, one of the characters, mourns her losses in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, dances in exaggerated, frantic motions in her tattered, blackened attire, her confusion is quite clear and obvious to the audience.
Many artists use the clichéd moon to symbolize lovers and fiancés seeing and feeling each other, by seeing the same moon. Tharp uses a bar. Brenda and Eddie, separated and confused by the war go to their respective bars, and find themselves clouded, and dazed by the events around them: unsure whether or not they even want the other anymore.
The stage was perfect, though those not used to the stage may find scenes and setting confusing. It required much afterthought to put everything together. The costuming was fairly apropos, and was really the only way in which a significant time change could be interpreted.
“Movin’ Out” had its highs and lows, but the overall effect was slightly disorienting. Billy Joel is an amazing lyricist; most of his pieces more than likely have their own story behind them. To put a plot to his Essential Hits, however, just didn’t quite work out.

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