Rock 'n' roll, love, lust, drugs, death, war. It may be set in the 1960s, but Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp's jukebox musical, "Movin' Out," is just as much a tale of modern America as it is a reflection of history. And thanks to six consecutive years of success on the stage, the dance-focused story will hit the Rosemont Theatre this weekend.
The emotional plot follows six life-long Long Island friends through the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam War. In the beginning, the characters' preoccupations with love, marriage and work are just as ordinary as their suburban lives. But then, suddenly, everything takes on a dark and sorrowful tone when it's overshadowed by the war. Over the next two hours, two decades rush by - and you can bet they're packed with trauma, death, fear and separation (and that's just the first act). Initial dance scenes are full of energy and interpret a tug between adolescence and adulthood. The second act is a more uplifting one, when the characters set out to get their lives back on track, which, as the somber dance numbers prove, is no easy feat.
While it sounds like a complicated whirlwind of emotions, the story is an easy one to follow. The key is to focus on movement, rather than Joel's cinematic lyrics. It can be difficult, though, at times to keep your eyes on the dancers, when the music is coming from somewhere else entirely. Unlike in a classic musical, where the characters sing their parts, the tunes in Movin' Out are performed by a pianist and band (usually suspended on a platform above the stage). In fact, the characters don't have any lines at all; instead they use dance as a means of expression, communicating through a series of spins, kicks and leaps. The songs are a lineup of Billy Joel's greatest hits, including "Uptown Girl," "Movin' Out," "Why Judy Why?," "Angry Young Man," "James," "We Didn't Start the Fire" and 18 others. You may find it difficult to keep your lips sealed during the string of pop songs, but singing along is not encouraged.
The collaborative effort between Joel and Tharp (who has also created ballet dance numbers to go along with the music of the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen) has made the show a huge hit since its opening in the fall of 2002. The following year, the Broadway production was nominated for several Tony Awards and took away two: Tharp for Best Choreography and Joel for Best Orchestrations. In 2004, "Movin' Out" progressed to its first national tour and even received international fame in the UK and Japan. The musical has been featured in a number of national publications and has been called "the most enthralling Broadway choreography on the contemporary stage" by The Washington Post. One thing is certain; "Movin' Out" isn't your typical musical. Instead, it's more like a rock concert, with equal parts song and dance.
"Movin' Out" will be at the Rosemont Theatre from Friday, February 20-Sunday, February 22. For more information, or to purchase tickets, head here.