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Photograph by Joan Marcus

Swing Shift: Julieta Gros shows off her hang time in 'Movin' Out.'

Phat City

'Movin' Out' speaks volumes about an era

By Marianne Messina

WHEN A MUSICAL causes the usher to warn, "It's going to be loud," I'm already predisposed to like it. And Movin' Out—produced by Clear Channel Entertainment and brought to the Center for the Performing Arts by American Musical Theatre of San Jose—proved the usher right. A fat, phat horn section, sprawling drumkit and screaming guitar dominated the soundscape from above the stage. Piano man (singer/player) Darren Holden sat at a weighty grand piano between horn and rhythm sections, and the band pounded out Billy Joel tunes as dancers enacted a loose plot about a group of friends molded and fired by the Vietnam War.

As you might expect, putting balletic dance to high-energy rock is going to yield mixed results, even when the choreographer is the courageous Twyla Tharp. In Movin' Out, ensemble dances are especially problematic. Having several couples onstage all doing slightly different things may add subtle complexity to a ballet, but here a lack of uniform, concerted group movement often allows the driving bass and beefy baritone sax to simply drown out the visual input altogether.

Yet when it works, it very, very works, usually when the emotion is raw and simple. For example, in the powerful battle scene—soldiers advancing, shooting, ducking. aided by fog, erratic light flashes and that warlike double-bass drum—there's no competition between sound and sight. And the "Elegy" scene, in which Judy (sweetly danced by Julieta Gros) receives the flag in honor of her fiance, James, killed in combat, is a beautiful partnership of expressionistic dance and music. Soldiers fold the flag with tight, ceremonious movements and hand it to Judy, who takes it and clutches it to her, giving a sense of "Is this all I have of him?" that needs no translation.

Sometimes the costuming appears too cumbersome for the moves. Tight belted jeans, work boots (pirouettes on steel toes?), pocket pants (especially on acrobatic Brendan King as Eddie, who must have felt like he was swimming in an overcoat) add visual awkwardness and take perceptual speed off the myriad flips, spins and lifts.

But if costumes (Suzy Benzinger) sometimes bury visual fluidity, Holly Cruikshank's high kicks resurrect it. Sleek, tall, leggy, and oh so shapely in short skirts and high heels, Cruikshank (as Brenda, alternating with Laurie Kanyok) adds both beauty and power to the elaborate lifts of her demanding duets. In a dance/argument between her and Tony (David Gomez), her fight kicks are especially convincing; set to Joel's "Big Shot," it's a primal number befitting the residual anger of war.

Equally wrenching is when the ghost of James (Matthew Dibble) in red-splattered white shirt (Benzinger's costuming was dead-on here) dances paired broken doll moves with Eddie. The scene's final image is of downed, hobbled soldiers inching offstage. The acrobatics escalate to a frenzy by the end of the show. King pogos in a handstand while scissors-kicking—ouch—and tops that with a radical flip from a one-hand stand. At this performance special applause erupted for the whips and queens of the "Captain Jack" scene (let it be a surprise), and at curtain call, Cruikshank and King drew emphatic applause. But the wildest whoops and hollers went to the band—well-done Billy Joel is a hard act to accompany.

Movin' Out, presented by American Musical Theater of San Jose, plays Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm through June 26 at the Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $45-$72. (408.455.Show)

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From the June 22-28, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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