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Photo by Joan Marcus, 2008
Photo by Joan Marcus, 2008
Listen to a few notes from “Uptown Girl” or “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and it’s easy to see why Billy Joel is the piano man. Listen to 24 of Billy Joel’s classic songs as they tell the choreographed story of life-long friends in the Broadway musical Movin’ Out, coming to Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre March 6-8 for a limited engagement of five performances, and you may have a whole new appreciation for Billy Joel. After seeing Movin’ Out, you may also acquire an appreciation for the acclaimed choreographer Twyla Tharp who conceived, choreographed, and directed the Tony-award winning “jukebox musical.”
The story of five friends is told completely through dance, with the movement and storyline coming from action rather than language.
“Movin’ Out appeals to audiences because the songs are so well-known. People can come in and relax, float with the experience, and concentrate on the lyrics,” says Tom Hoch, president of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The songs and dance of Movin’ Out take audiences from the friends’ 1960s’ high school graduation to their reunion some time later. It focuses on their adventures in high school (and their post-World War II idealism), the unrest of the Vietnam War, and issues fighting depression, drug use, forgiveness, and survival.
“There’s a clear story, and to Twyla’s credit, you can follow it. It’s an amazing, original piece of work,” explains Matthew Friedman, who plays the Piano Man. He stresses that the show isn’t just for Billy Joel fans. “It’s for anyone who appreciates a great Broadway show, wonderful dance routines, and watching a live rock band.”
Unlike some Broadway performances, when you can hear the band but can’t see them, the band is very visible in Movin’ Out (Friedman and a ten-piece band are suspended on a platform above the stage). His enthusiastic personality comes through as he soulfully sings, plays, and connects with the audience and a spectacular troupe of dancers as they “act out” the narrative through a sort of rock ballet. This is Friedman’s third national tour with the show. Landing the role was a challenge, he says, but he didn’t give up.
“I was on a mission to get this job,” he comments. “I believed in my heart that I could do this, and here I am, three years later, doing it.”
A New York native, he first tried out for the role in 2002, after deciding he wasn’t excited to wake up in the morning and report for work as an attorney. (He was an attorney for 11 years and says he “stayed sane” in his free time playing in a band with his brothers.)
He admits that the first audition didn’t go so well.
“I met Chuck Burgi, the original drummer for Movin’ Out, and he helped me get my first audition. He got me to the front of the line, with thousands of people trying out. The producers told me I had the talent to do the role, but my image wasn’t right. I came straight from work in my suit and tie, carrying my briefcase, you know ‘Mr. Attorney,’ and the rest of the guys were dressed like Billy Joel in jeans and black T-shirts.”
He got another audition over two years later (after working on his image) and was hired on Dec. 8, 2005.
While preparing for the role may have required some effort on Friedman’s part, playing the piano is second nature to him. He started playing shortly before his third birthday.
“The story goes that just before I turned three, my dad bought me a Fisher Price eight-note xylophone. I played it, started crying, and said it was broken. I told my dad there was a key missing. We later realized there were no sharps or flats. My dad couldn’t believe I was hearing sharps and flats when I didn’t even know what they were. He went out and bought me a piano a week later, and I taught myself to play.”
Friedman describes himself as a huge Billy Joel fan (he was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play an hour-long solo at Billy Joel’s wedding) and is honored to be part of a show featuring such brilliant dancing and superb music. If you want to see a performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, don’t miss Movin’ Out.