Recently, Ron Rosenbaum wrote a—well a rant, really, for Slate.com titled “The Worst Pop Singer Ever”, in which he used the recent death of painter Andrew Wyeth, whose work is arguably both dreadfully sentimental crap and American genius, to account for the unfathomable popularity of the Piano Man, Billy Joel.
Rosenbaum begins his long, long tirade with this disclaimer:
I'm reluctant to pick on Billy Joel. He's been subject to withering contempt from hipster types for so long that it no longer seems worth the time. Still, the mystery persists: How can he be so bad and yet so popular for so long? He's still there.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to be the world’s biggest Billy Joel fan. As I sat in the Orpheum watching a bunch of young hardbodies work Twyla Tharp’s choreography across the stage in Movin’ Out, I only really recognized maybe 75 percent of the songs. But very little of what Joel does makes me cringe. And I am so over this “just because people like it, does it make it good,” nonsense argument we hear over and over in the pop culture wars.
Why does Britney Spears sell so many albums, she’s so bad? Why don’t people watch 30 Rock, it’s so good?
Billy Joel is good, and Billy Joel is good because he has had 33 Top 40 hits, is the 6th best-selling U.S. artist of all time, and has sold 150 million albums worldwide. He entertains people—that is his job as an entertainer. He’s good because after a 30-year career, he’s heading out on another sold-out tour with Elton John (stops at the Xcel May 5). He’s good because when great American choreographer Twyla Tharp created a “musical” based on nothing but her choreography, the characters from Billy Joel songs (Brenda, Eddie, Tony, James, Judy), and a thin plot that revolved aforementioned characters graduating high school, breaking up, going off to the Vietnam war, dying, coming home, doing drugs, finding redemption, getting back together, and finding new love, it ran for 1303 performances in 2002 and another 1,100 in the first touring production.
There are no speaking parts in Movin’ Out, and none of the characters sing. It’s just Tharp’s brand of contemporary ballet, 26 Billy Joel songs, and a house band with a lead singer capable enough to pull the whole thing off. Millions of people around America have seen Movin’ Out, a two-hour dance recital-meets-cover-band concert. And they like it. Are they all wrong?
The Orpheum was not as full last night as it has been for other recent Broadway Across America productions—Frost/Nixon, Spring Awakening—but the people were loving it, hootin’ and hollerin’ when they heard their favorite songs. Cheering with each massive leap and seemingly endless fouetté jeté. The dancers rotate, and I couldn’t find the list of the night’s performers that was supposed to be posted in the lobby, but they were all incredible, top-notch talent. It was only slightly off-putting that the guy who played Eddie (basically, the lead) was a dead ringer for hometown hero Justin Morneau.
Bottom line, it’s a fun show. And it’s around for two more nights at the Orpheum.