Saturday, August 04, 2012

All Shook Up!

Mercury Summer Stock closes its summer season with ALL SHOOK UP!

Jukebox musicals are a trend in modern American musical theater. The format force-feeds a story line around already created music. The sources are usually the works of groups (GOOD VIBRATIONS, the music of the Beach Boys, MAMMA MIA, the songs of ABBA) or singers (COME FLY WITH ME, the songs of Frank Sinatra and MOVIN’ OUT, the songs of Billy Joel).
ALL SHOOK UP, now on stage at Mercury SummerStock, takes the songs of Elvis Presley and tries to sandwich them into Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. The story is credited to Joe DiPietro.

TWELFTH NIGHT, as do many of The Bard’s comedies, centers on mistaken identity. In the Shakespearean version, which takes place in the kingdom of Illyri, there are shipwrecks, storms, a dead or alive twin brother, sea captains, a girl dressed as a page to the Duke, and lots of plot twists. Almost none of that story is in ALL SHOOK UP! Yes, a girl dresses as a boy and there are lots of invented twists and turns, but that’s about it.

If, after hearing of the connection between TWELFTH NIGHT and ALL SHOOK UP!, you think are going to see something like the well-constructed WEST SIDE STORY, based on ROMEO OR JULIET or KISS ME KATE, based on the Bard’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, forget it.

ALL SHOOK UP! opened in March of 2005 in New York and closed after only 213 performances, after receiving very mixed reviews. Gotham’s leading paper stated, “Yet another synthetic jukebox musical opened last night on Broadway, fresh off the assembly line.” It went on to extol the shallowness of the plot.

The show has, however, proven to be a cult hit. In fact, it is one of the most produced musical reviews at regional theatres, colleges and high schools. It is the type of show, given the right production, that can please audience members familiar with Elvis, wanting an escapist evening of theatre, who aren’t interested in a well-constructed play, and are out to see their relatives and friends on stage.

The plot finds Chad, a motorcycling sex symbol, he of mobile pelvis, thrusting crotch, sneer, and sultry singing voice, dropping in on a small Midwestern town, supposedly because his bike broke down. The burg has a decency proclamation instituted by its uptight lady mayor. As can be expected, chaos reigns as hormones hop, love sweeps in, and the status quo is no longer status or quo.

In the course of singing the likes of Jailhouse Rock, Heartbreak Hotel, One Night With You, Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender and Don’t Be Cruel, a young female garage mechanic, her widowed father, the mayor’s son, a waitress, and the town’s nerd, all fall into the throes of love. Don’t expect the songs to fit smoothly into or advance the story line. They most of them don’t.
Mercury SummerStock’s continued strength is director/choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault’s dance designs. He continues his winning ways with this production. The highlight number is Can’t Help Falling in Love.

Conductor/pianist Eddie Carney’s orchestra performs well. Janet Conley’s scenic art works, especially on the Eisenhower era correct proscenium arch.

Performance highlights include Jesse Markowitz (Dean, the mayor’s son), who, as in his recent starring role in Cain Park’s AVENUE Q, lights up the stage with his effervescent smile, fine singing voice, let-loose dance style, and spot on character development. His scenes with the equally talented Lauryn Alexandria Hobbs (Lorraine) are charming. It’s Now or Never is one of the show’s highlights.

Brian Marshall is engaging as Dennis, the town’s love-sick nerd. He gets to show off his singing prowess in It Hurts Me.

Klevette Beacham, who has made high comedy her performance genre, does it again as Sylvia, she of hard outside and soft-hearted inside. Her There’s Always Me brought deserved “hurrahs.”
Dani Apple has one of the best trained and biggest voices on local stages. Though the Elvis songs don’t fit well into her power vocal sound, she does a nice job with the songs in her range. Forcing her to reign in her sound to fit into lower register songs takes away her usual ability to mesmerize audiences.

Dana Aber, one of the two Equity members in the cast, plays well the aloof Miss Sandra, the director of the art museum. Her Let Yourself Go, is well done and nicely staged.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like Elvis’s songs, are in the mood for escapist theatre wrapped in a nearly non-existent plot, and want to see lots of high school and college kids have a good time performing, ALL SHOOK UP! could be your thing.