Many newspapers sent their dance rather than drama critics to last night’s opening of Broadway transfer Movin' Out at the West End’s Apollo Victoria. While there was scepticism about the effectiveness of the Tony Award-winning show’s hybrid nature - with Twyla Tharp’s choreography set to the pop hits of Billy Joel - there was almost universal praise for the energy of the performances.
The dialogue-free piece follows a group of high school friends from New York, as they dance their way through the Vietnam War, lost lives, lost loves and lost dreams. James Fox is the Piano Man, singing Joel’s songs from a raised platform above the dancers, led by Ron Todorowski, Holly Cruikshank, David Gomez, Laura Costa Chaud and Matt Dibble. Tharp also directs.
Movin' Out continues its limited season at the Apollo Victoria until 17 July 2006, before embarking on a European tour.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “It all feels and tastes like a loaf of processed sliced white bread with margarine, not butter. Rock concert and dance staging meet in a middle-ground medley of mediocrity.” Nevertheless, “the execution is unarguably magnificent. We must instantly salute Holly Cruikshank and Ron Todorowski, who dance their socks off for two hours and display incredible technique and stamina.”
Judith Mackrell in the Guardian - “Even though the evening is crammed with two dozen hits, all of which are given a huge gutsy performance by singer-pianist James Fox, the Joel fan club may still feel cheated… Much of what happens on stage feels closer to modern ballet than pop tribute.” However, she was impressed with Tharp’s contribution: “As plots go, this is hardly novel, but Tharp not only tells it with model clarity but with ensembles that range from fluent classical ballet to savagely, visceral evocations of war. Her choreography is light years beyond the Broadway average.”
Debra Craine in The Times - Movin' Out “is a Twyla Tharp dance show” as opposed to a musical, and “using pop songs to relate the story is a straitjacket (confusing, too, at times) and one wishes for more opportunity to get under the skin of Tharp’s characters.” But Craine was full of praise for the cast, who “dance as if their lives depend on it”.
Zoë Anderson in the Independent - “Barked out by Fame Academy finalist James Fox, lyrics and melodic lines are blurred. The songs, thumped out by a ten-piece band, don't give Tharp much rhythmic variety…. The plot leads into some very silly scenes. Chorus-boy soldiers discover that war is hell... When one dies, his loyal girlfriend makes an unexpected appearance on the battlefield, still wearing her neat white gloves. But she's changed her strappy sandals for pointe shoes, a sure sign of Serious Emotion.” Anderson added: “Tharp's dancers can't act” but conceded that the show “does look spectacular”.
Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard - "Monster hits get mixed up with a slim, sentimental plot that's best watched with your eyes closed". Tharp’s direction "falls well below her theatrical best". Still, "most West End dancing is nowhere near as sharp... the final, full company dance-off is brilliant, with dazzling lifts and truly jaw-dropping leaps. However, these can't disguise the tissue-thin drama and the bombastic characters."
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - "Listening to (Joel's) music performed by a red-hot band on stage last night, I had to admit I had seriously undervalued him... when combined with Twyla Tharp's often thrilling choreography, this is a show that really packs a punch."
- by Caroline Ansdell