"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Review: Elvis Musical Is Surprising

Thu Mar 24,10:14 PM ET Entertainment - AP Music


There may be life in the jukebox musical after all. The much-maligned genre that produced the highs of "Mamma Mia!" and the lows of "Good Vibrations" has strengthened the case for pop-song musical theater with a surprising "All Shook Up."

This genial, thoroughly ingratiating show, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Palace Theatre, features songs made famous by that icon of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley. And it also celebrates Presley himself, using his persona as the model for the musical's lead character, a guitar-strumming, motorcycle-driving, hip-swiveling roustabout named Chad.

What makes "All Shook Up" work so well is the show's cheerful, tongue-in-cheek sense of self. Book writer Joe DiPietro, one of the creators of the long-running off-Broadway revue "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," has concocted a goofy, often funny and sweet-tempered story that is an affectionate send-up not only of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," but all those cheesy movies Presley made during his mediocre film career.

Remember such cinematic clinkers as "Harum Scarum," "Clambake" and "Speedway"?They make "All Shook Up" seem like "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Well, not really. But DiPietro has had the smarts not to take things too seriously, while director Christopher Ashley has assembled a crackerjack cast headed by hunky newcomer Cheyenne Jackson to deliver the goods.

Most of Presley's big hits are here, from "Love Me Tender" to "Jailhouse Rock" to "Heartbreak Hotel" to "Can't Help Falling in Love" to bits and pieces of "Teddy Bear" and "Hound Dog," and, of course, the title song. DiPietro has shoehorned some two dozen Presley numbers into the musical without letting the seams show in his admittedly slender, countrified fairy tale.

We're in a small town in Middle America, circa 1955, a place where all the young folks leave as soon as they get married. It's a dead-end burg until Chad arrives "with a song in his soul and a love for the ladies."

"Time to live a little," he preaches to its unhappy, uptight citizens. That's not so easy since the town is run by a bossy female mayor (a glorious Alix Korey) who rides around in a pink Cadillac convertible enforcing something called the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act, banning, she says, "everything I consider dirty."

That includes romance, which seems to have affected everyone, all of whom including Chad are suffering from bad cases of unrequited love. Jackson is a musical-theater find, blessed with good looks and, more importantly, the ability to be funny and self-deprecating. But then, there is equally fine work done by a whole parade of performers.

They include a delightful Jenn Gambatese as Natalie, the tomboy female mechanic who falls for our hero; Leah Hocking as a blond femme fatale who runs the local art museum (OK, that's a bit of a stretch) and a hilarious Mark Price as Chad's nerdy sidekick. DiPietro's string of mismatched lovers embraces all ages and, in a subplot similar to one in "Hairspray," cuts across racial lines, too, something that wouldn't have happened so readily 50 years ago.

It concerns the military-school son (Curtis Holbrook) of the white mayor who falls for the black daughter (Nikki M. James) of the local saloonkeeper (the vocally expansive Sharon Wilkins).

And the bar owner has designs on Natalie's father, played by the affably rumpled Jonathan Hadary. "All Shook Up" even flirts with the hero thinking he might be gay after falling for "Ed," who happens to be Natalie disguised as a guy so she can get close to Chad. It's a plot line that gingerly gets resolved with a minimum of fuss. Ashley moves the show at a rapid pace, aided by some exuberant choreography, the work of two choreographers, Ken Roberson and Sergio Trujillo.

The director doesn't allow the show to fall apart even when the plot seems to disappear for yet one more big dance number. Designer David Rockwell's rustic settings suggest Li'l Abner's Dogpatch filtered through a hip, yet nostalgic sensibility for all things rural, and he has come up with an evocative, almost arty fairground setting in Act 2 where all the lovers come together in confusion.

"All Shook Up" thrives on that confusion, a mixed-up merry-go-round of fun anchored by all those Presley tunes. Lightweight, to be sure, but it floats very nicely indeed.

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