'All Shook Up' a whole hunka burnin' Elvis fun
The scorching days of summer almost demand that entertainment be light, and you can’t get much lighter, frothier or easy to take than “All Shook Up,” enjoying a spirited revival at Laguna Playhouse.
The 2005 Broadway jukebox musical features 25 Elvis Presley songs, all shoehorned into a book by Joe DiPietro that’s based on the Shakespeare play “Twelfth Night.”
As in that 1602 comedy, each character falls in love with someone who loves someone else, in a seemingly endless comical daisy chain. And as in that story, a woman disguises herself as a man, multiplying the romantic mix-ups.
At Laguna, “All Shook Up” is an appealingly silly, loose confection thanks to director Steve Steiner and his flawless cast of 18.
In a nameless Midwestern burg in summer 1955, Chad (Clark Helman) is being released after a week in jail for getting the town’s women excited. À propos of nothing, he launches into “Jailhouse Rock,” with the show’s ensemble as the guards and inmates who supply Chad’s vocal backup.
Packing up his guitar and black leather jacket, Chad rides his motorcycle on to the next town, where a law known as the “Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act” bans “loud music, public necking and tight clothes.”
The brash, outgoing, uninhibited young guy likes to see people relax and enjoy life. His effortless cool affects all those around him, reducing girls to giggly puddles – even Natalie (Lily Ganser), the town’s mechanic.
Unable to hold Chad’s attention, Natalie watches him grow thunderstruck by the town museum’s new curator, Sandra (Jill Slyter). The brainy blonde bombshell, though, views him as “a caveman with the libido of an Italian soccer team.”
Realizing a fellow dude might get more face time with Chad, Natalie dresses as a man and creates the alter ego of “Ed.”
Chad welcomes this new sidekick and best friend, but the amount of bromance “Ed” delivers makes him uneasy. In fact, the self-styled “roustabout” is deeply conflicted, fighting his attraction to a guy. Thickening the plot: Sandra is also drawn to Ed.
The show’s fun is in the small details like a character’s reaction or a memorable line. And DiPietro tips his hat to the Bard when Chad sends Ed, his new BFF, to deliver a Shakespeare sonnet to Sandra.
“All Shook Up” lets us enjoy familiar Elvis tunes at two levels: Because of the scenarios that prompt the characters to sing them, and through DiPietro’s ingenuity in finding ways to weave them into a storyline of misplaced love.
To wit: Thinking he might be falling for Ed, Chad sings “I Don’t Want To,” while the song “One Night With You” becomes a running musical joke, sung by each character the moment they realize they’re lovestruck.
Jeffrey Biering’s musical direction gives the songs an authentic period feel. Few, if any, of the numbers are delivered in emulation of Presley; they work because they’re great, durable, pop pieces – and, here, because of the cast’s terrific singing. In particular, Dwan Hayes, as Sylvia, raises the roof with her powerful Motown-style vocals.
Helman doesn’t have the “sultry eyes and pouty lips” Chad is described as having, but no matter: the actor’s easy, lazy Southern accent, pseudo-Elvis diction, fine singing and winning persona do the trick.
Ganser’s Natalie doesn’t seem especially invested in her love for Chad until her desperation prompts her to hide her gender. Slyter is a sultry Sandra, and her gutsy vocals drive “Let Yourself Go,” which sizzles with the hottie’s vitality and her newfound love of Ed.
Not all of “All Shook Up” stands up to close scrutiny. Some of the characterizations seem pro-forma, a by-product of DiPietro’s writing and his adherence to the outlines of “Twelfth Night.” As in that play, no one recognizes “Ed” as Natalie in disguise – yet the “Ed” persona is still none too plausible.
The real treats in Laguna are the cast’s solid vocal work, musical numbers that are lighter than air, and the whole brightly colored, ’50s-nostalgia package, boosted by Keith Lambert’s costumes and Alex Crocker-Lakness’s lighting.
As notable is Paula Hammons Sloan’s choreography, exciting and kicky from the opening “Jailhouse Rock” number to the closing reprise of “C’mon Everybody.”
No question that “All Shook Up” deserves, and has earned, a place on theater season schedules as a crowd-pleaser, and Laguna’s production more than delivers on that promise.