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Even the debased act of recycling old rock songs can be the occasion for artistic alchemy. Two years ago, Tharp called Joel, whom she had never met, asked him over to the house and told him she wanted to do a musical based on his songs. He said yes, then stepped aside and let Tharp go to town on Movin' Out, a two-act dance musical built around a couple dozen of his songs (not just Uptown Girl and Captain Jack, but some of his classical compositions as well), linking them loosely with a story that spans two decades in the lives of three Long Island buddies and the women in their lives.
Tharp has done this sort of thing before, but usually in the confines of highbrow dance troupes (like Deuce Coupe, based on Beach Boys music, for the Joffrey Ballet). Here she manages to enhance Joel's music (sung by a Billy stand-in, Michael Cavanaugh, who sits at a piano, accompanied by a 10-piece band, on a platform above the stage) while buoying the spirits with sexy, high-voltage dancing that promises to give Broadway a rush of excitement. Best of all, she does it the old-fashioned, pre-Mamma Mia! way: no dancing in the aisles.
--With reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner/New York