DanceView Times, New York edition
Checking In with Movin' Out
Given the high-stakes energy quotient involved in Movin' Out, it seemed appropriate to check in the now-long-running Broadway hit 17 months after its opening to sample new cast members—as well as the performances of those who have stayed with the show since its inception. The show's five central characters were all originated by dancers who were part of the re-born Twyla Tharp Dance that launched in 2000: John Selya, Keith Roberts, Elizabeth Parkinson, Ashley Tuttle and Benjamin Bowman. Alex Brady, the sixth member of that stellar troupe, was also in the show's ensemble.
As of the performance when I caught up with the show (one doesn't feel right calling it a musical, although Broadway usually demands that categorization for a production that includes music), the three male members of that all-important core group were still in their roles, as was Scott Wise, the featured performer (and assistant to Tharp) who portrays several smaller roles. Also still in place is the crucial contribution of the amazing Michael Cavanaugh, whose singing and piano playing of the score's Billy Joel songs remain as infectious and fervent as ever.
It was in the main women's roles that changes had occurred. Leggy, daring Elizabeth Parkinson, who created an indelible Brenda, had just gone on what was described as a six-week leave—but since then, it has been announced that she is pregnant, and the role will officially be handed over to Nancy Lemenager on May 9th. As the leading actress in the short-lived Jerome Kern musical Never Gonna Dance, Lemenager was far stronger as a dancer than she was as a singer, so the non-singing, all-dancing role of Brenda seems an appropriate fit. In that earlier show, she came across as a sweet-tempered, meticulous performer; it will be interesting to see how (or whether) the more wide-ranging and sensual demands of Brenda, and Tharp's challenge to dancers to give their all and then some, will open her up.
Ashley Tuttle, who has remained an active principal dancer with ABT during the run of Movin Out, was no longer portraying Judy at this time. Miami City Ballet (and School of American Ballet) alumna Mabel Modrono had moved into the role, giving it a newly edgy, more glamorous accent. Tuttle's demure, low-key manner served the role—that of the sweet, good girl, who continues to wear neat little dresses and white gloves when the other women switch to bell bottoms and frizzed-out hair—well, and Modrono's exotic features and nervous intensity threaten to conflict with that aspect of Judy. But once she becomes the widow-as-Fury, stabbing her black toe shoes in a frenzy of bereavement and accusation, whirling across the stage in her black tutu-gone-punk outfit like some modern-day Wili, Madrono brought a new level of wildness and force to the role.
Portraying Brenda for the interim period, as she had at various times (as understudy or in the matinee cast) since the show opened, was the remarkable, magnetic Karine Plantadit-Bageot, who never quite achieved star recognition during her years as a riveting dancer with the Ailey troupe. She has a natural exuberance and is a complete creature of the stage—expressive, dynamic, spontaneous. Her Brenda starts out as a completely giddy teenager, believably naïve and wide-eyed in her pedal pushers and puffy pigtails.
As the "Uptown Girl" in the impossibly retro red sundress, she takes giddy delight in her capacity to keep a string of men panting after her-and when Plantadit turns on the sexual charisma, the effect on those guys is completely believable. When she matures and confronts the ugliness of the Vietnam War and its impact on her immediate surroundings, she conveys anger, confusion, loneliness and longing. Always memorable in her original ensemble roles in the show (particularly as a wild temptress during the increasingly degraded second-act downward spiraling of Eddie), Plantadit-Bageot now has the spotlight she deserves, and she really runs with it. Watching her react to the people around her and reflect the specific situations of each scene is a revelation. Her duets with Keith Roberts as Tony—which remain, for me, the heart of the show, even while Selya's Eddie is the most powerful, explosive character—each have a specific tone and thrust. Their youthful discovery of love in all its liberating sense of possibility ("This Night") is sensational, as is the reconciliation duet after hard times ('Shameless") that brings their relationship full circle. There is a fierce purity to the way these two people give themselves to each other, arriving at a point of both mutual surrender and balanced give-and-take.
Selya, proclaimed a Broadway star in the show's reviews, deserves that accolade for his rough, tough, no-holds-barred portrayal of Eddie. He convincingly creates a working class character who's playful with his pals, but also a bit overly aggressive and uneasy. Audiences respond to the visceral energy and ferocity of his brand of butch bravura. It's amazing he continues to invest Eddie with such passion and intensity, and these days he plays to the crowd at times, even breaking character to slap palms with front-row patrons during the exhilarating suite that brings sweet resolution and nirvana-like harmony to the ensemble, in which he's the magnificent focal point.
It is heartening that Movin' Out plays to near-capacity crowds and has settled in to find its place on Broadway. Its success and popularity certainly owe a great deal to Joel's rich array of articulate, impassioned songs, but no less significant are Tharp's insight into them and her ability to mine their theatrical power so brilliantly.
Movin' Out's national company is currently touring the country, with a cast including three dancers from Broadway: Holly Cruikshank and the terrific David Gomez (a born Tharpian), who were in the original matinee cast, as Brenda and Tony, and Ron Todorowski as Eddie. For dates and cities, go to: www.movinoutonbroadway.com/tour
photos by Joan Marcus)