The Roxy Regional Theatre’s new production, All Shook Up, is a rollicking romp through our musical “yesterday.” It’s an Elvis Presley fantasy set in a small town where all the action is played out through a score that could be subtitled “Elvis Presley’s Greatest hits.”
It’s the third show I’ve seen in a year that has taken this route of mixing one singer or groups’ music and parlaying that playlist into a new form, integrating the music as part of the storyline. The film Across the Universe did a masterful job with the repertoire of the Beatles’, while the Mama Mia movie fared less well with its ABBA soundtrack. This live theatre production, All Shook Up, and this fabulous Roxy cast come out on the highest end of that scale.
- First, as we baby boomers know, you can’t go wrong with a good Elvis song.
- Second, this Roxy cast was perhaps its strongest ever ensemble of singers/dancers/actors/comics.
- Third, they had clever material and fine hand in direction and choreography.
This is a strong show. It opens with a rousing rendition of Jailhouse Rock as the hero, Chad [Bryan Davis] is released from jail. Vibrant dancing, the bold costuming of jailhouse stripes, immediately caught audience attention and set the rock and roll pace for the rest of the story. The scene shifts from the jail to a small town diner and a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, reflecting the restrictive morale standards and the human yearnings of people — young and old — who want to be loved.
The arrival of the leather-clad Chad, the Elvis “roustabout,” immediately shakes the sleepy town, beginning with the young dusty, dirty, grease-covered mechanic, Natalie [Maria Maloney], who takes one look at the pelvis-twitching psuedo Elvis and burst into the song One Night With You, a tune that becomes a recurring theme and recurring gag throughout the show. While Natalie is instantly enamored with Chad, Dennis [De’Lon Grant] has been secretly nursing unrequited love for Natalie.
Davis had all the Elvis moves down pat: the hand slicking back the hair, the grinding pelvis in tight leather pants, the wild knock-knee’d rhythms that once upon a time had TV stations required to show Elvis only from the waist up. He exuded a swagger,a machismo, a leader of the pack attitude that set everything else in motion. Maloney, who will be joining the Roxy for the 08-09 season, was a revelation; this young actress exuded a wide array of emotions from innocence to passion to proverbial “double takes” with an animation that touched genius. We want to see more of her. Grant, in simply stepping on stage, immediately reminded me of a young, earnest and intense Sidney Poitier (yes, I am old enough to remember those early years of Poitier in film). The facial similarities include the intense expressions, the jut of his jawline, a commanding stance, the intensity in his eyes as he played out his lovestruck part panting after Natalie. I was dazzled by the impeccable comic timing in each of the cast members.
Rounding out the cast are Brendan Cataldo as Natalie’s widowed father, Jim; Bonnie Kramer spoofed the Marilyn Monroe-like Miss Sandra t the delight of the audience; Jennifer Whitcome-Oliva as Sylvia emerged with a powerful and poignant voice; Lea Anderson as the young Lorraine is proof that dynamite can come in small packages — petite in stature she has a powerhouse voice and vocal range that is staggering. Bradley Vile plays Dean Hyde, military school dropout looking for love. Anthony Scarsella is Sheriff Earl — yes, Sheriff Earl — who is primarily a strong silent presence who gets his chance to shine only as the play is winding to its conclusion. Linda Ellis is a hoot as the strict moral compass known as Mayor Matilda Hyde (Dean’s mother). The supporting cast/dancers are Beth Koperwhats, Harmony Livingston, Jacob Moyer Moats, Humberto Figueroa and Brinna Fuller.
The magic is in the integration of music comic timing. All Shook Up runs like a Shakespearean comedy, each character lusting after someone who doesn’t love them back. It is a comedy of errors and runs the gauntlet of pure slapstick at times, with “double takes” and recurring humor that builds upon itself akin to a snowball rolling downhill. The humor just keeps getting bigger and better. Insert into that equation the Presley songs and the energy explodes. The audience was top tapping, humming, even mouthing the lyrics to the familiar tunes.
The highlights in music include a Hound Dog/Teddy Bear medley that produced tears of laughter, and a stunning ensemble number Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.
Other Elvis songs include C’mon Everybody, Follow That Dream, Blue Suede Shoes (yes, the blue ‘suede’ shoes were evident — everywhere), Don’t Be Cruel, the title song All Shook Up, A Little Less Conversation, Devil in Disguise, If I Can Dream, Fools Fall In Love, and Burning Love.
The orchestra backing up the performance was vibrant, rhythmic and perfectly moderated, never overpowering the singers. Musicians included Tom Thayer on piano, Jack Propps on Percussion, Tom Tapscott on reed, Thad Wallus on Bass and Brandon Wilson, guitar. John MacDonald directed. Choreography (which was impeccable) was designed by Tom Thayer, Bradley Vile, Harmony Livingston,and Michael Hartman.
This is one show you will want to see — more than once. The shows runs through August 23. For times and ticket information, call the Roxy Box office at 931-645-7699. Then put on your blue suede shoes and get ready to rock and roll.
Photos by Debbie Boen