Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Movin' Out - Playhouse Square Center

Fantastic 'MOVIN' OUT' rocks the Palace Theatre!

There is a love affair going on in Playhouse Square. From the opening note sung by Clevelander Michael Cavanaugh, until the final curtain call which found the nearly sold out house standing on its feet screaming "Cleveland Rocks," the audience at 'MOVIN' OUT,' the Twyla Tharp/ Billy Joel musical now on stage at the Palace Theatre, was wired. During the curtain call the cast was wildly applauding the audience for its enthusiastic reception of the show. Audience comments on the way out included, "That was fantastic," "Best show I've ever seen," "That's what good theatre is all about," and "I'm coming back for more!"

I saw the first night preview of 'MOVIN' OUT' in Chicago where it received its out of New York tryout. My immediate reaction was "this is no ordinary musical." There are no spoken lines, the singing doesn't integrate into the plot, per se. In fact it is more a rock concert and a contemporary ballet done simultaneously. The band, and in this case, a great band, is suspended over the stage with the lead singer center stage. In Chicago, and now in New York, it's local boy Cavanaugh who received a 2003 Tony Award nomination for his Broadway debut. Cavanaugh took a recess from the New York production to sing the role in his home town. And we are very glad he did.

Another reaction to the Chicago production was that the first act was weak, the second act dynamite. I heard shortly after the Windy City opening that Twyla Tharp totally had restaged the first act and Billy Joel had added a song. The second act remained basically in tact. The first act is still weaker than the second, but in a production this dynamic, that's not saying there is much wrong.

The story, in contrast to many dance concerts, is easy to follow, concerns an examination of a group of 60s teenagers who progress through high school, followed by the males going off to the Vietnam War which results in one of them losing his life in combat. After the conflict the others return home, broken from grief and hooked on dope. The boys, now men, finally reconnect and discover they have found their way back.

Don't try to match Billy Joel's words to the dancing. While not all the lyrics are relevant to the action, phrase snatches and the musical themes set the tone for Tharp's choreography.

Cavanaugh, who was found in Las Vegas doing a show in which he sang Billy Joel songs, started to perform professionally at age 12. He is not only known as a singer but does character voices for the Disney Channel and has recorded a solo CD entitled "Sounds a Lot Like Me." His performance in 'MOVIN' OUT' is outstanding. His voice is strong, his articulation clear, and his piano playing wonderful. He sings with feeling and creates meaning from the words, rather than just singing words.

Usually in dance performances the women outperform the men. Not so in this production of 'MOVIN' OUT.' The men, including the male corps, were all strong.

Corbin Popp, who played Tony, showed mastery of not only modern dance, but displayed fine balletic moves. He also displayed strong acting skills. His Broadway idol good looks and buffed body added to his strong stage presence. In "This Night" he showed excellent partnering skills, as was the case in "Big Shot." "Big Man on Mulberry Street" was a show stopper.

As Eddie, the distraught post-Vietnam burnout, Brendan King almost stole the show with his amazing gymnastics and dancing power. A segment entitled, Eddie Attains Grace, danced to "River of Dream," "Keeping the Faith" and "Only the Good Die Young" was amazing. It was one of the strongest dance performances I've seen in any musical.

Sean Maurice Kelly, who filled in for Matthew Dibble, didn't match the dancing polish or dynamics of Popp and King.

On the female side, Julieta Gros was wonderful as Judy. She captured the stage with her petite good looks and controlled dancing movements. Laurie Kanyok was inconsistent as Brenda. She was at her best when partnering with Corbin Popp.

"Goodnight Saigon," which displayed the horrors of war was superb, as was "Captain Jack."

The Movin' Out Band was note perfect. They not only played well, but were excellent in vocal backups.

Technically, the show was of Broadway quality. The lighting, costuming and scenic design all added to the overall positive effect.