Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

'Movin' Out' of a war that devastated a generation

Review by Lucy Komisar

Movin' out
Conceived and choreographed by Twyla Tharp; music and lyrics by Billy Joel

Directed by Twyla Tharp

Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 W. 46 St.
New York
Open-ended run


There was never a better time to remind the American public that war destroys the fighters as well as the targets. Twyla Tharp's jazzy rock ballet follows five working-class youths in the 1960s who sign up for the Vietnam War as an act of patriotism and adventure.

The three boys (John Selya, Benjamin G. Bowman and Keith Roberts) go to war, and they end up either dead or on drugs, disoriented and emotionally detached from each other and "normal" lives. The girls (Elizabeth Parkinson and Ashley Tuttle) also pay an emotional price, and then there's the detritus of the Saigon "bar girls" that the U.S. Army considered appropriate R&R for the boys.

Nothing is better than Tharp's powerful leaps and twirls to express the high spirits and energy of youth. Selya as the central character, Eddie, evinces a glorious exuberance.

Movin' Out And then comes the war, a screaming drill sergeant (Scott Wise), frenetic soldiers, and helicopters whose noise makes them seem to be careening through the theater. It's a brilliantly horrific war, with bullets as trajectories of light, and the sudden clammy, twists and contortions of the dead who are then wrapped in plastic and numbered. Later they will arise in memory from the grave, reminding the survivors of how young the slaughtered were. Those who survived the horror almost envy the dead: having escaped from the war, they find body and spirit ravaged by drugs.

Tharp's fluid style works for this story, though one misses the kind of witty jagged motions common in other pieces. One exception occurs when Eddie, in a stunning, joyous sequence in Central Park, seems to be running forward as he moves backward.

The music is the rock style of Billy Joel, sung by Michael Cavanaugh. I can't comment on it, since I find rock a boring noise. (Jazz is something else.) A major drawback for anyone who has not become partially deaf through previous exposure is the decibel level, which at an early performance evoked the earsplitting intensity of warplanes. A return visit found the sound reduced. Still, better to be prepared. Fighter pilots wear earplugs. If you don't have a set, keeping your fingers in your ears also works.

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