Elvis Gets Laguna "All Shook Up"

Elvis Presley, Shakespeare and a touch of "Footloose" may not seem like a match made in theatrical heaven, but somehow it all comes together in the sprightly musical "All Shook Up," now entertaining audiences (and festival-goers) at the Laguna Playhouse.

Structuring a show around Elvis songs doesn't achieve the same caliber of results as turning Shakespeare and Cole Porter into "Kiss Me Kate" or using the Gershwin library to create "An American in Paris." Yet the King is comparatively more contemporary and should strike a responsive chord among today's viewers.

Playwright Joe DiPietro has patched together a plot as thinly woven as one of Elvis' many movie musicals, but director Steve Steiner somehow makes the concept work with the bountiful assistance of musical director Jeffrey Biering and choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan. A talented, energetic ensemble lends enormous support.

DiPietro borrows liberally from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and to a lesser degree from the movie "Footloose" (which also begat a stage musical), with its repressive Midwestern attitudes of the mid-1950s, just when Elvis was hitting his stride.

Starring vigorously in the Kevin Baconesque role of Chad, a wild youth known as "the roustabout" (another Presley movie title), is Clark Helman, whose arrival in the backwoods hamlet creates about the same reaction as Conrad Birdie's visit to Sweet Apple, Ohio. The ladies swoon — all, that is, except the embittered mayor (Michelle Bendetti), a latter-day Scrooge who hasn't had any fun since she conceived her now-grown son (Cole Fletcher), who's about to give her some more grief. Bendetti sparkles in her rendition of "Devil in Disguise."

Helman stirs a particular fervor in the lady mechanic (Lily Ganser), who believes being like one of the boys will gain her favor with Chad, so she does the whole Viola transformation, which was silly when the Bard first employed it. Meanwhile, her widowed dad (Jonathan D. Mesisca) is feeling romantically antsy toward the sassy café proprietor Sylvia (a terrific Dwan Hayes, who stops the show with her crowning vocal "There's Always Me.")

Helman, Ganser and Hayes top the performance list, while Christopher Hansell has some nice comic moments as Chad's nerdy "sidekick." Jill Slyter does a neat caricature of a sophisticated lady whose eventual romantic choice will cause audience double-takes. Alexa Briana Crismon has some delightful moments as Fletcher's teenage temptress.

If you don't get all shook up by the festival traffic, you'll get your kicks with "All Shook Up" at the playhouse. Elvis won't be leaving the building until Aug. 7.

Actors and puppets will share the stage this weekend and next at Orange Coast College, where J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" will be performed under the direction of David Scaglione.

Student actors Joey Hobby and Peston McFadden will play the roles of Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, while the dragon Smaug and the 8-foot-tall trolls will be enacted by shadow puppets. The mysterious Gollum will be played by Brian Soto with the aid of a puppet.

The play is geared toward audiences of all ages. Friday and Saturday evening stagings will be at 7 p.m. with weekend matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 in advance and $9 at the door. They may be reserved by calling (714) 543-5880 or going to occtickets.com.