Elvis Musical Is Surprising
Mar 24,10:14 PM ET Entertainment - AP Music
MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
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
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.
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
such cinematic clinkers as "Harum Scarum," "Clambake" and
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.