Movin’ with the Uptown Girl

As a young girl growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the 1980s, Amanda Kay didn’t listen to
Amanda Kay stars as Brenda in “Movin’ Out,†the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical that comes to Proctors Mainstage Tuesday through Sunday.
Amanda Kay stars as Brenda in “Movin’ Out,†the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical that comes to Proctors Mainstage Tuesday through Sunday.

As a young girl growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the 1980s, Amanda Kay didn’t listen to a lot of Billy Joel.

That all changed last April when Kay won the part of Brenda in the national touring production of “Movin’ Out,” a smash Broadway hit from 2002 featuring Joel’s music and the choreography of Twyla Tharp. The show comes to Proctors in Schenectady for eight performances Tuesday through Sunday.

“He’s a little bit before my time, but I can remember walking to school listening to ‘Uptown Girl,’ and thinking it was a great song,” said Kay. “When I started rehearsals, I was re-remembering all his songs. He wrote some great music, and Twyla Tharp is a genius. This has been an amazing experience for me.”

‘Movin’ Out’

WHERE: Proctors Mainstage, 432 State Street, Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $60-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or

“Movin’ Out” opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in October 2002 and ran until December 2005. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning Best Choreographer for Tharp, who conceived the idea of the musical, and Best Orchestrations for Joel. There are 24 songs by Joel in the show, which tells the story of a generation of young Americans growing up in Long Island during the 1960s.

Dancers dominate

There is a thin story line but no dialogue. The dancers, portraying characters from Joel songs such as Brenda and Eddie (from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”), dominate the stage, while all the vocals are performed by singers and musicians (including a piano player, obviously), usually suspended on a platform above the stage.

The national tour has been getting rave reviews since it started last June, and many critics have singled out Kay for her two show-stopping numbers, “Uptown Girl” and “Big Shot.”

“The ‘Uptown Girl’ was a character that I easily could dive into,” said Kay. “I have a lot of similarities with the character, and she does go on a huge journey throughout the show. The character has a great arc. She starts out naive, sort of tomboyish, and then she grows up a lot during the show. It’s a huge emotional journey, and I’m very proud and honored to dance this character and to develop her story.”

Kay’s story began in South Africa in 1980, but as soon as she could, at age 18, she left home and headed for the lights of New York City, determined to be a dancer.

“I think dancing has always been in my blood,” she said. “Ever since I was 5, I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always been jumping around and twirling.”

Kay worked in New York for seven years before landing a gig in Milan, Italy. She had been traveling back and forth between New York and Milan for two years before finally making a decision last March to move permanently to Milan and marry an Italian theater producer.

Plans interrupted

“I just came back to New York to get all my stuff for good, and a friend of mine dragged me to an audition for this tour,” said Kay. “So, moving to Milan has been waylaid, and my fiancé is still waiting after 15 months. This has been a life-changing experience and I’ve loved it, but when we’re done in June I’m going back home to Milan. He’s still waiting.”

Kay said her parents weren’t particularly artistic, but dancing does seem to run in the family. An older cousin, Phyllis Spira, was generally recognized as South Africa’s top ballet dancer before she died just last month at the age of 64.

“She created an amazing legacy in South Africa by bringing ballet to underprivileged townships and by working with poor South African children and introducing them to ballet,” said Kay.

“She and her husband [Phillip Boyd] also created this wonderful dance company that toured throughout the world. She was an incredible woman.”

In “Movin’ Out,” Kay gets the opportunity to dance a variety of styles.

“I guess it’s classic musical theater, but Twyla has this amazing ability to use a huge variety of dance in the show,” said Kay. “You can call it modern ballet, but there’s also jazz and hip-hop, and some very acrobatic numbers. In one song, I get thrown around by three different men. The choreography is amazing.”

Kay, 28, concedes that the dancing does take a toll physically, especially all that moving around in high heels in “Uptown Girl.”

“Any kind of dancing can be dangerous, and dancing in high heels can be painful,” she said.

“I had tendinitis in my ankles for weeks. Putting on high heels is a little bit different from what I’m used to, but I got through it and I feel pretty good now. But it helps to have a hot bath, a massage and ice treatments, and then stretch. That’s a remedy that’s been able to keep everything stable, so to speak.”

Kay, who returns to South Africa at least once a year to visit her family and friends, isn’t sure what direction her career will take when she heads back to Milan and married life.

But she’s convinced she’ll be a much better dancer as she leaves “Movin’ Out” than she was going into it.

Getting better

“This has been a very unique and special show, and I’ve definitely come a long way as a performing artist,” said Kay.

“When you’re out there on stage performing every night, it’s very enlightening and inspiring. I’ve gotten better doing what I love and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

Matthew Friedman has been the piano man and responsible for most of the vocals on this national tour since last June, and John Corso continues as Eddie, Kay’s primary dancing partner.

Categories: Life and Arts

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