Should New York City ever lose power again, a remedy could be at hand: Just harness the energy being unleashed on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theater by the astonishing cast of "Movin' Out." Strap a generator to Elizabeth Parkinson's lightning-bolt legs and watch the Empire State Building come back to life. Channel the kilowatts in John Selya's dazzling turns and keep the subway running. The power in Keith Roberts' stomach muscles could light up Times Square, and Ashley Tuttle's feathery bourrees would provide a few thousand volts, too.
Amazing as it seems, the four principal performers in the musical's original cast are still going, and going, and going, Energizer Bunnylike, after more than a year in their physically punishing roles. Twyla Tharp's high-energy choreography, which seems permanently set at 45 rpm, the better to suit Billy Joel's nostalgic singles score, may well be the most demanding--and the most dazzling--dancing ever delivered to Broadway audiences eight performances a week. And while the lead cast now performs only five of those shows, it is still a shock to find the same dancers blazing across the Richard Rodgers stage and not, say, in traction.
Of course, there's no guarantee audiences will see all four principals on a given night; this critic's recent return visit was at the invitation of the producers, for a specified performance. When I saw it with a friend a few months after its opening, both Roberts and Tuttle were out. Another friend attended a spring perf and saw neither of the male leads--ouch! Such stories are not uncommon: The fact is that dancing at this level, with this frequency, is an unusual--even perilous--assignment for even these supremely gifted dancers; absences cannot be avoided if the dancers are to protect their careers.
What is certain is that those lucky enough to see all, or indeed any, of these dancers are not likely to forget the experience any time soon. The dancing is every bit as technically superb as it was back in October 2002, when the show opened. And the performances are now sharper and deeper in their emotional contours. The connections between the characters are more strongly etched, through small, simple gestures a held glance, a perfectly timed parting. Perhaps simply by supporting each other in living through the daily challenges of a long run in a physically demanding show, the dancers have forged new bonds that accentuate their interpretations.
As a result, Tharp's scenario--an all-American tale of love, loss and redemption set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War era--seems less obvious and thinly conceived than it initially did. And Joel's pop score, which is not always ideal for dancing and can sometimes be mildly obtrusive, now seems less so. Frankly, it seems almost incidental to the content of the show, if not the box office, although Michael Cavanaugh now sings the two dozen songs with greater delicacy than in the show's opening days.
And, again, what dancing! Parkinson, with the fierce feline energy of a panther in a body a goddess would envy, mesmerizes with her fierce attack in one pas de deux after another. The spear-sharp legs, the liquid back, the silky glow of her pale skin are gorgeous to behold; her dancing is all flash, power, spaciousness, and yet, paradoxical as this might seem, her acting is subtle and sensitive--it's an extraordinary combination.
Her partner for much of the evening is Roberts, who smoothly channels her energy and matches it with his own grandly scaled, buoyant dancing.
Selya now more powerfully conveys Eddie's tormenting guilt over the death of his buddy--leaping with cat-like suddenness up a chain-link fence at his first postwar encounter with his friend's widow. And his exuberant dancing remains breathtaking.
In the show's emotional highlight, a nightmare flashback to a battle in which Eddie is tormented by a ghostly figure, Selya brings a thrilling expressiveness to choreography that in other hands might seem showy, athleticism. This sequence also allows Tuttle to display her polished pointe work and appealingly ethereal presence.
But the talent onstage is by no means limited to the principal dancers. Let your eye wander--if you can--to any couple in the background, and you're likely to see the same level of commitment and energy brought to bear on Tharp's choreography, moment by moment, throughout the evening.
Trying to take it all in isn't easy; at times, the musical is almost exhausting to watch. But that sensation is handily overpowered by another, stronger one: exhilaration.