The Theatreguide.London Review
Apollo Victoria Theatre Spring-Summer 2006
From Broadway comes this all-dance show, choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the music of Billy Joel, and if it isn't quite the greatest thing since My Fair Lady, it is still an exciting and beautiful evening of dance and music.
Tharp is, of course, the most successful crossover choreographer since Jerome Robbins, having created dances for Baryshnikov and the film of Hair, and just about everything in between. And she is no stranger to pop music, with justly famous dances set to the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.
She's an extraordinarily eclectic choreographer, borrowing freely (and sometimes within seconds of each other) from classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and music video vocabularies. Her signature is the seemingly awkward movement (such as an outstretched leg with a flat foot rather than pointed toe) that magically becomes both beautiful and expressive (That flat foot almost always communicates joy).
It is she who conceived and directed this series of dances to 24 Billy Joel songs, organised into a simple plot.
We meet a group of high school students in the 1960s. One couple breaks up while another gets married. The guys go off to Viet Nam, where the groom is killed.
The first couple eventually find their way back together while another buddy, badly traumatised by the war, fights his way back to mental and spiritual health.
And all this to songs from 'It's Still Rock and Roll to Me' through 'Uptown Girl,' 'We Didn't Start the Fire,' 'Goodnight Saigon' and 'Keeping the Faith,' performed by an above-the-stage band led by a singer-pianist.
When Tharp's dances are good, they are very very good. When they are poor, they're just OK (which isn't all that bad).
The weakest dances are the most literal and plot-driven ones, like the Viet Nam sequence, which is just a mime of guys fighting and dying.
The strongest are the most mood-evocative, such as 'She's Got a Way,' in which the split-up couple, half a world apart, dance their longing for each other, or 'Keeping the Faith,' in which the damaged vet celebrates his release from his demons.
And the real delight is in the breadth and bounty of the dancing. 'Just The Way You Are,' for the bride and groom-to-be, is a purely classical pas de deux; 'Uptown Girl,' the break-up girl's wild fling, is what most music video dancing aspires to be; 'This Night' is a thoroughly modern version of Fred-and-Ginger romantic dancing; and on and on.
Be aware that an alternate cast performs Thursdays and matinees. In the 'A' cast, the tall, legs-up-to-there Holly Cruikshank and darkly masculine David Gomez bring out all the passion and sensuality of the apart-and-then-back-together couple while Ron Todorowski is filled with coiled and then acrobatically released energy as the damaged vet and Laura Costa Chaud lovely as the bride/widow.
James Fox sings and conducts from the piano, and a large and beautifully dancing corps de ballet provide backup.
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