BWW Review: ALL SHOOK UP Has Appeal Despite Stumbling Blocks.
Zilker Theatre Productions kicks off its sixtieth season with the musical, ALL SHOOK UP. Inspired by and featuring songs made famous by Elvis Presley, it also features a book written by Tony Award-winning playwright and lyricist, Joe DiPietro. Starring Cheyenne Jackson, the Jukebox musical premiered on Broadway in 2005 and ran for a total of 213 performances. In addition, the show received U.S. and UK national tours. The 24 songs featured in the score are instantly recognizable Presley classics like "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Don't Be Cruel," and the titular "All Shook Up.
Loosely based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, ALL SHOOK UP takes place in 1955 middle America, where an unexpected visit from a mysterious hip swivelling, guitar-playing stranger named Chad (Andrew Cannata) helps a small town discover the power of love and magic of rock & roll. Along the way, he meets Natalie (Heather Capello), a local mechanic who dreams of hitting the open road. With the town run by a bigoted Mayor (Sue Breland), Chad's influence begins to breath new life into its inhabitants. In one topsy-turvy night, romance blossoms and the town's residents are changed for good.
There are several stand-out performances in this lively production. Joey Banks as Natalie's lovesick friend, Dennis is an audience favorite with hilarious adlibs and a scene-stealing performance of "It Hurts Me" in Act II. Fated young lovers Lorraine and Dean, played by Jessica O'Brien and Riley Wesson, are a powerhouse duo with soaring vocals. Their rendition of "It's Now or Never" is easily one of the best of the night. Michelle Alexander's portrayal of Lorraine's mother, Sylvia is lively and nuanced and her stirring performance of "There's Always Me," is arguably the night's finest solo number. Other notable performances are Josey Pickett as the sultry Miss Sandra and Kirk Kelso as Natalie's endearing father, Jim. Of the production's group numbers the obvious crowd favorite is the powerful act one closer "Can't Help Falling In Love With You."
Despite the entertaining moments throughout the nearly two and a half hour show, it is not without issues. These mainly lie in the book by Joe DiPietro which attempts to address the issues of racism, sexuality, and sexism, but ends up making these serious topics glossed over subplots in favor of a more traditional love story. Written in the early 2000's the majority of the show's material feels dated and plays heavily into certain stereotypes. One of the most notable times being when lead character Chad believes he has fallen in love with a man (which turns out to be Natalie in disguise). The town's mayor is also never truly held accountable for her blatant racism and instead is given her own happy ending without so much as an apology to the people, including her own son that she has hurt. These problematic factors raise the question of why this particular show was sought out for the company's milestone season.
Though the main disadvantage of the show is its lumbering book, direction by J. Robert Moore, unfortunately, does not provide a clear vision either. Throughout the production, numbers and scenes between feel disjointed and in dire need of refocusing. It is apparent the performers are talented, but the audience is often left confused on the actual trajectory of the show. Several roles in the twenty plus person cast also appear to have been vocally miscast. This inappropriate vocal ability leaves certain numbers lacking and at times falling flat. In addition, choreography by Karen Olson and David Ponton is well crafted but seems to be difficult for the ensemble to execute. On many occasions, these dance sequences appear jumbled and out of rhythm. While none of these missteps appear intentional, they did affect the overall production.
The show's technical elements, however, were a bright spot. Musical Direction by Lyn Koenning is expertly done. Classic Presley tunes are creatively reimagined in the show's score and Koenning skillfully keeps the music spirited and the harmonies tight. Set and lighting design by Cheri Prough DeVol is vibrant and whimsical. The structured steel-like set flexibly fits the show's settings including a diner, museum, and an amusement park. The set is a visually stunning achievement, especially when paired with DeVol's atmospheric lighting.
All things considered, ALL SHOOK UP does possess a certain amount of appeal largely in part to the talent of the cast and musicians and the timeless music of Elvis Presley. The impressive spectacle created by the brilliant scenic artists and designers is also something the whole family will appreciate. While the show isn't without its stumbling blocks, Zilker Theatre Productions should be commended for providing free, accessible theatre for sixty years. This incredible accomplishment is a gift to the Austin community and is sure to continue delighting families for many years to come.
ALL SHOOK UP is now playing at the ZILKER HILLSIDE THEATRE (2206 William Barton Dr, Austin, TX 78704) until August 18th. Thursday through Sunday at 8:15 pm.
Approximate run time: two hours and thirty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission
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