Shook Up' an efficient tale full of Elvis
an amiable, brainless love story with surprising appeal
Michael Phillips Tribune theater critic
Beach Boys were so right. Wouldn't it be nice? Wouldn't it
be nice to peer a decade or two into the future and assess,
in total, all 900,000 shows in the ever-growing, ever-retro
genre of the songbook musical?
at this year alone. Thanks to the success of "Smokey Joe's
Cafe" (Leiber and Stoller), "Movin' Out" (Billy Joel) and
especially "Mamma Mia!" (ABBA), we have a Beach Boys tuner,
"Good Vibrations," currently emanating the wrong sort of vibrational
buzz from the neighborhood of Broadway. "Lennon," due in New
York this summer, will in one way or another do John Lennon.
the pipeline, more promisingly, there's a Four Seasons bio-musical
("Jersey Boys") from the La Jolla Playhouse. There has been
talk of a show built upon the catalog of the band Chicago
and, from Twyla Tharp, a Bob Dylan ballet. Practically all
that remains is a show based on the rock band Boston. Or Kansas.
a crystal ball, it's impossible to say where the amiably brainless
Elvis Presley-sprung musical "All Shook Up" will fall in the
early 21st Century scheme of things. Who knows? The show,
which started previewing in late 2004 back when we were young
and innocent, finally opened its pre-Broadway run Thursday
at the Cadillac Palace. It may well end up being one of the
better songbook musicals, which may not say much, but . .
. well, it may not say much.
little town A tick over two hours in length, "All Shook Up"
takes place, as we're informed by a projection, "once upon
a time . . . in a square little town, in the middle of a square
state . . . in the middle of a square decade."
is sexually repressed William Inge territory, a few counties
over from "Picnic." The town is ruled by a highly starched
mayor (Alix Korey) who eagerly enforces the "Mamie EisenhowerDecency
Act," meaning "no public necking, no boogie-woogie."
to a new beat Sweet young Natalie (Jenn Gambatese), the local
grease monkey, pines for the highway, while her father (Jonathan
Hadary), a widower, spends time at the local tavern. Dentist-in-training
Dennis (Jim Price) is crazy for Natalie, but he cannot muster
the courage to tell her. Quicker `n you can say "Footloose,"
a magical hunk with a helluva pelvis arrives in the form of
Chad (Cheyenne Jackson). Quicker `n you can say "Bye Bye Birdie,"
the town is moving and, in fact, grooving to a whole new beat,
courtesy of the Elvis Presley estate.
must resist the temptation of lowbrow culture!" warns the
mayor, who obviously never backed a jukebox musical. Chad
falls for Miss Sandra (Leah Hocking), the proprietress of
the local museum located in a trailer. Natalie's heart goes
thumpa-thumpa for Chad, so she disguises herself as a cycle-ridin'
man in order to get in good with her heart's desire. If that
last plot wrinkle sounds like Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night,"
you're thinking exactly as librettist Joe DiPietro is thinking.
DiPietro is best known for "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now
Change," and those who enjoyed that show probably will enjoy
"All Shook Up" is crowded with Shakespearean references to
sonnets and Romeo and Juliet and forbidden love, but there's
enough "Twelfth Night" in it to put it on a list including
"Your Own Thing" and "Play On!," two official "Twelfth Night"
time anyone spies their true love in "All Shook Up," the character
sings a few bars of "One Night With You" while the action
freezes. It is a musical running gag typical of the genre,
and the show.
of the Elvis hits are here, in a breathless 26-song roster:
"Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Teddy
Bear," "Don't Be Cruel," "Jailhouse Rock." DiPietro's book
scenes juggle a lot of romantic subplots, including an interracial
romance between the mayor's son (Curtis Holbrook), who puts
the "white boy" in "white boy," and the defiant African-American
daughter (Nikki M. James) of the local barkeep (Sharon Wilkins).
Doesn't ring true.
is where DiPietro and director Christopher Ashley haven't
done the right groundwork. I know it's a fairy tale, but this
is pre-Civil Rights era 1955. Right away -- in a stunningly
well-integrated saloon of white and black patrons -- you're
unable to fully buy the world of "All Shook Up." Act 2, set
in an abandoned fairground standing in for a Shakespearean
forest, is a fair bit better and wittier bookwise, with Chad
unable to resolve his feelings for his new sidekick, "Ed"
-- Natalie in drag.
leads are more likable than memorable, which is generally
true of the show itself. In the supporting ranks Price's uber-nerd
Dennis (excellent knee-knocking dance moves), in particular,
does wonders with DiPietro's patronizing hick-town gags. When
Price and a jittery, surprisingly unrelaxed Hadary share a
scene, you may be seeing the least rural, least authentic
heartland portrayals imaginable, even within the realm of
Shook Up" is not authentic in any way, shape or form. It is
an efficiently paced fraud, yet a fraud with more audience
appeal than many might expect. Scenic designer David Rockwell
does artfully and well with his fetching two- and three-dimensional
modes of transportation -- characters come and go on cycles,
a Greyhound bus, a bicycle -- although his fairground setting
lacks visual appeal. Not that anybody on stage notices the
little breathing room or downtime in "All Shook Up," which
makes it harder to connect with the romances. The pacing makes
"Mamma Mia!" look like "Show Boat." Even those who have a
hunka hunka time of it may find themselves more stirred than
shaken, let alone actually all shaken up. But as nostalgia-mongering
projects go, you could do worse. I certainly have. I saw a
"Mad Max"-style Doors musical called "Celebration of the Lizard"
Shook Up" runs through Jan. 23 at Cadillac Palace Theatre.