Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Best of the Decade: The Best Musicals, #4

The 2003 season was one of my favorites, with its two biggest hits making my top 5. Hairspray was the quintessential traditional Broadway musical (with a twist or two), while number 4, Movin’ Out, was everything Hairspray wasn’t. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and enjoyable, both shows had what a lot of more recent shows don’t. So, why is the Tony winning Best Musical just below the runner up? Because to this day, something will remind me of this dance musical and I am as enthralled by I now as I was then.

To date, Twyla Tharp’s biggest hit and most acclaimed musical is Movin’ Out. Here is a look at that show.
#4: Movin' Out -
Music and Lyrics: Billy Joel
Conception, Direction and Choreography: Twyla Tharp

Statistically Speaking:
First Preview: September 30, 2002
Opening Night: October 24, 2002
Closing Night: December 11, 2005
28 previews, 1303 performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

There were 22 cast members, lead by singer Michael Cavanaugh, opening night cast Elizabeth Parkinson (Brenda), Keith Roberts (Tony), John Selya (Eddie), Ashley Tuttle (Judy), Benjamin G. Bowman (James at all performances), and Scott Wise (who played Sergeant O’Leary and the Drill Sergeant at all performances). The alternating cast was Wade Preston (vocals), Holly Cruikshank (Brenda), David Gomez (Tony), William Marrie (Eddie), and Dana Stackpole (Judy). The ensemble included Mark Arvin, Karine Bageot, Alexander Brady, Ron DeJesus, Melissa Downey, Pascale Faye, Scott Fowler, Rod McCune, Jill Nicklaus, and Rika Okamoto. Additionally, there were 10 understudies and 6 swings.

  • Movin’ Out earned 10 2003 Tony Award Nominations, 2 wins – Billy Joel and Stuart Malina (Orchestrations) and Twyla Tharp (Choreography). The nominees included Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (John Selya), Best Actress in a Musical (Elizabeth Parkinson), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael Cavanaugh and Keith Roberts), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Ashley Tuttle), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder) and Best Direction of a Musical (Twyla Tharp).
  • The show was also nominated for 6 2003 Drama Desk Awards Nominations, winning one for Twyla Tharp (Choreography).
  • John Selya was honored with a Theatre World Award.

 Over the run of the show**, there were:
  • 2 primary and 2 alternate dancers in the role of James.
  • 1 primary and 3 alternate dancers in the role of Judy.
  • 3 primary and 2 alternate dancers in the role of Tony.
  • 2 primary and 3 alternate dancers in the role of Brenda.
  • 1 primary and 4 alternate dancers in the role of Eddie.
  • Michael Cavanaugh was the primary and Wade Preston and Darren Holden were the alternate Lead Vocalists. 
** - NOT including return engagements, understudies, swings or stand-bys.

Among the dancers who appeared in Movin’ Out that have gone on to notable Broadway credits: Michael Balderrama, Kristine Bendul, Timothy Bish, Christopher Body, Paul Castree, Kurt Froman, Lisa Gadja, Cody Green, Lorin Latarro, Marty Lawson, Matt Loehr, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Eric Otto, Justin Peck, Desmond Richardson, Rasta Thomas and Ron Todorowski.

My Favorite Moments in Movin’ Out:

  • The entire opening sequence, from “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” through “This Night” - Capturing and entire generation with sung narration and heart-felt dance, is a remarkable enough experience, but the range and scope of this sequence is mind-blowing.
  • “Waltz #1” - In an abrupt, unsettling way this beautiful orchestral interlude served to change the mood and thrust the story forward, as the innocent young men joined up and shipped out.
  • “Elegy (The Great Peconic)” - The grief of stage and in the audience was palpable as one of the boys comes home in a coffin. Watching Ashley Tuttle dance her grief was a humbling, tearful experience.
  • “Captain Jack/An Innocent Man/Pressure” - Eddie cannot reconcile his feelings after the Vietnam experience, so acts out in some surprising and other unsurprising ways. His downward spiral comes to a devastating end when he is forced to confront his feelings with a grieving Judy in front of him. It is unbelievable to me how much emotion and depth was portrayed by all of the Eddies I saw, and all with movement and not a single spoken word.
  • “Goodnight, Saigon” - Perhaps the most gripping 12 minutes in song and dance on the entire decade. I was mesmerized as the entire Vietnam experience was recreated in front of me. Masterful dancing, spectacular lighting and a throbbing sound effect evoked the helicopters, battles and sheer hell of war. And of having to decide between saving yourself or risking it all for a friend.

When I blogged earlier about Movin’ Out just as Tharp’s latest show, Come Fly Away, was about to open (click here for that article), I summed up my feelings thusly:

I love to watch excellent dancers perform excellent choreography (my thoughts on West Side Story corroborate that) and Movin' Out provided me with hours of such pleasure. I saw it three times on Broadway and several times on tour. It speaks to the quality of the piece, the director and the dancers that each time the show got richer and deeper, just the opposite of what happens to many long-running shows that become a parody of themselves. I sat in stunned silence the first time I saw it, and wept openly at Judy’s anguish, which closed act one, and wept yet again at the flashback sequences in act two that showed us what happened in Vietnam. As I type this all these years later, the goose bumps are fresh at just remembering the penetrating throb that went through my body as the sound of helicopters approached, hovered and finally left, an aural symbol of tat bloody conflict. I loved every single minute of it, even embracing the sweet, if unlikely ending.

It remains one of my favorite theatrical experiences of all time, and certainly among the top of the first decade of this century.

Since Broadway:

The show has continued to tour the country, with 2 Equity National Tours and now with a non-equity tour. Most of its principal dancers have continued with Ms. Tharp in her subsequent shows, The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Come Fly Away.

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