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Movin’ Out

Published April 17, 2008

The 2,348-seat Apollo Victoria has long been home to some of the West End’s most famous musicals. Now, sandwiched between Saturday Night Fever and the Broadway transfer of Wicked, which opens in the autumn, another musical is setting up temporary home. Movin’ Out, the Broadway hit which combines the music of Billy Joel and the choreography of Twyla Tharp, had its UK premiere last night. Caroline Bishop went to the first night…

There’s a bit of a West End tradition of musicals that create a story around the music of a famous band or musician – Ben Elton wrote a tale of rock music banned in a futuristic world and set it a soundtrack of Queen numbers for We Will Rock You; Catherine Johnson’s Mamma Mia! tells of a girl looking for her long-lost father on a Greek island to a backdrop of songs by Swedish pop group Abba; and The Smiths, Madness and Rod Stewart have all jumped on the musical bandwagon.

The story of Movin’ Out has a link between composer and subject matter, at least. The musical takes the songs of all-American Billy Joel, who grew up in 1960s New York, and sets them to a story of a group of friends growing up and dealing with what life throws at them in 1960s and 70s America. Twyla Tharp’s choreography tells the story (there is no spoken narrative), and Joel’s songs are ordered to help illustrate each scene.

The show then, is a two-in-one: James Fox is the Pianoman who, along with a superb band, performs the soundtrack of Billy Joel numbers from a platform suspended above the stage. Fox is the former Fame Academy contestant and Eurovision entrant who here shows that his musical talents go way beyond any singing contest. Below, on stage, Tharp’s dancers depict the loves and lives of five friends, who are forced to deal with the consequences of the Vietnam war on their relationships. The main quintet are Broadway cast members Ron Todorowski (Eddie), the statuesque Holly Cruikshank (Brenda) and David Gomez (Tony), plus petite Brazilian dancer Laura Costa Chaud (Judy) and the UK’s Matt Dibble (James).

In the first half the dancing starts as a sugary sweet mixture of pirouettes and rock ‘n’ roll moves, set to Joel numbers including Just The Way You Are and Uptown Girl, where the immensely long-legged Cruikshank is the recipient of the boys’ attentions, but the dancing gets by turns raunchier and more heartfelt after the boys go off to Vietnam, one loses his life and the others spiral into depression.

The plot may get a little lost in the second act, but the Billy Joel hits keep coming and the dancing is turned up a notch. It may be another musical where the soundtrack comes first, the story second, but Movin’ Out is, like others in its genre, a great night out at the theatre.

Movin’ Out is booking until 17 July. em>CB

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