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Chasing The American Dream

January 30, 2006


photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

I decided late in the game to buy tickets to go see Billy Joel and the play Movin’ Out. My Billy Joel tickets weren’t great, but I guess I was lucky to get a ticket in the first place. So I figured the same to be true for my Movin’ Out ticket…

The Jackie Gleason Theater has good memories for me. I was there in June when Alanis Morissette gave us such an outstanding performance. Maybe there are good vibes or something because as the usher walked me to my seat, the closer I got to the stage. She asked me how I gut such a great seat. I told her I had no idea where the seat was. She proceeded to show me. “Here you are sir, front row and center.” Holy shit! Indeed. Somehow, I got a front row, center seat not more than 10 feet from the stage. As per my usual, I looked to the left and right of me. Darn, no on e to share my excitement with. But I was excited nevertheless. I think the last play I attended was Guys & Dolls back in 1983. As I sat and admired the view, I remembered what the usher told me before she left. She said it was important for me to read the storyline in the Playbill so I could follow the story. Well, you know me. I don’t like to know much about a movie before seeing it. I don’t read reviews and I don’t like watching trailers. So I hesitated as I glossed over the storyline. Darn, it revealed too much for me so I stopped reading. Instead, I waited with grand anticipation for the curtain to rise.

After the lights were dimmed and the curtain rose, it didn’t take long for Twyla Tharp’s choreography to grab the audience’s attention. The play opened with a big dance number with the entire ensemble. James Fox, our Billy Joel for the evening, belted out a very Joel-like rendition of “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.” The set up was interesting. As the cast played out the acts on stage, Fox and the band were housed on a cat-walk high above the stage. It was hard to focus on both at the same time. I probably paid more attention to the band than I should have. But as I watched the play unfold, I wrote down a couple of observations.

First, I realized why the usher told me to read the Playbill. The play had no dialogue. Instead, the story was conveyed through a unique chronological arrangement of Joel’s familiar hit songs. And honestly, if you’re not familiar with the songs or don’t particularly care for Billy Joel, you’re probably not going to like the play. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the plot follows a typical 1970s Vietnam War era storyline. You know the one. Boy meets girl. Boy goes off to war. Friends die. Boy comes back confused, lost, and drug dependent. Boy and girl break up. You get the picture, right? But yeah, I had to cheat and read the storyline a couple of times to remember who was who. But I thought it was amazing that the plot was easily followed without words and only via the songs and the actors’ innate ability to express themselves simply through facial expressions and complicated dance and ballet moves. And that’s quite an accomplishment; perhaps even more impressive than memorizing speaking parts. Now I must say, I have no critical basis with which to judge how good the actors performed those moves. I was surprised at how physically demanding that all was. And I realized about the only move I could possibly perform was that whole sliding into second base-type move. But beyond that, I can say that dancing and ballet were most definitely entertaining.

During the 40 minute Act I, we heard familiar tunes including Italian Restaurant, Just The Way You Are, Uptown Girl, We Didn’t Start The Fire, She’s Got a Way, and The Stranger. See? Bet you can follow the story already. I was really impressed with James Fox. He sounded to me like early years Billy Joel, circa Piano Man vintage. His voice slightly higher as Billy’s was back then. I tried to close my eyes and imagine if Billy was singing. It worked for me.

After a 20 minute intermission, we were treated with 50 more minutes of songs that included Angry Young Man, Big Shot, Captain Jack (My personal favorite), Innocent Man, Pressure, Goodnight Saigon, River of Dreams, Keeping the Faith, and Only the Good Die Young. Once again, I’m sure you can imagine the story line. Kudos to leads Holly Cruikshank, Brendan King, and Sam Franke. They possess talents I can’t even imagine. And what a thrill to be doing something you love for a living.

At plays end, I think the story and the audience appreciation were both happily ever after. As for me, I’m glad I got a little Broadway culture. It has been too long. I’ve got the itch now. I wonder if I can get a ticket for Wicked?


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