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Movin' Out

“Movin’ Out isn’t just a virtual rock concert of the iconic Billy Joel’s most famous ballads — it’s also a tour through modern American history, with the familiar names of Brenda, Eddie and Tony leading the way. Although Joel himself may not have thought it could be done, director/choreographer Twyla Tharp has found a narrative connection in Joel’s music and lyrics, and presents the songs with some impressive dance interpretations.

Mind you, there are neither spoken words nor an actual plot to follow. All we hear is Joel’s music, and through the lyrics and dancing can follow that prom queen and king Brenda and Eddie break up in the end of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” James and Judy get together in a medley of “Reverie” and “Just the Way You Are,” Tony and Brenda get together in “This Night,” and the boys are officially off to war with a rousing rendition of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Difficulties set in as the guys try to readjust to life at home in “Angry Young Man,” “Big Shot,” “Captain Jack” and more, all culminating in a harrowing and tearful interpretation of “Goodnight Saigon.” Forgiveness and peace are found late in the show with “James,” “I’ve Loved These Days,” and a great medley of “River of Dreams/Keeping the Faith/Only the Good Die Young.”

The band is posited high above the stage, giving ample room for the dancers to move about. Singer James Fox is immediately recognizable within the band not only because he’s at the piano and sounds like Joel (though he struggles with the high notes, which is why he has very capable backup singers), but he even looks a little bit like Joel, at least from a distance. Tharp’s dance choreography is impressive in its ability to tell the story and the sheer energy it demands and gets from the dancers, particularly Rasta Thomas, Laurie Kanyok and Keith Roberts as Eddie, Brenda and Tony, respectively.

Given that this is the Broadway Series (a.k.a national touring) version of the show, the production values are top notch. Props roll on and off the stage as needed, including a vintage convertible, a hill in the outskirts of Vietnam, and a bar for what in “Captain Jack” equates to a brothel scene. The costumes accentuate the era in which the story is taking place: The boys wear varsity jackets during high school and pre-war times, are clad in camouflage while at war, and the entire cast features an array of clothing that reflects both their mood and the year during post-war sequences. While the lights are a little too bright and in your face at times, they’re used to a powerful effect in “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Goodnight Saigon,” among others.

The show is essentially impossible for any Joel fan not to like, unless you don’t care for the interpretations of the songs, which vary only slightly from the source material. If you’re not a Joel fan, odds are you’re not going to the show anyway; if you’re a twiddler and indifferent about Joel, this amped-up and energetic concert can make you a believer for good.

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