BWW Review: ALL SHOOK UP Lightens Up A Rainy August

We're expecting rain for the next week or so. Dreary, constant gray days that come right on the heels of the last days of summer. This Sunday, just as an August rainy cold front rolled in to town, sitting in a darkened theatre for a couple of hours instead of boating on Lake Travis seemed the perfect idea. The full house at Lakeway's TexArts thought so, too apparently, and Sunday's production of All Shook Up was a fluffy, bright bit of cotton candy on an otherwise dreary day.

This jukebox musical (they seem to be the fare many professional theatres serve these days, like the theatrical equivalent of fast food) is surprisingly better than most. Inspired by the songs of Elvis with a book by I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE's Joe DiPietro, ALL SHOOK UP is a lightweight story strung together by Broadway-ized versions of Elvis Presley's greatest hits. What the story lacks in substance, this TexArts cast makes up for in strong, fun-loving, professional style. It's almost evidence that with the right cast and director, you can make a silk purse from a sow. It's actually a lot of fun, once comparisons to the musicals it otherwise evokes are removed. But they're hard to remove. ALL SHOOK UP takes its cues from BYE BYE BIRDIE, GREASE, MAMMA MIA, even TWELFTH NIGHT and one can't help but be reminded of HAIRSPRAY, a show that, though it premiered two years later than ALL SHOOK UP, tells the story of love crossing the forbidden boundary of race with a little more teeth.

You'll recognize the plot, even if you've never seen one of the musicals it steals from. A "Roustabout" cruises into town on his motorcycle. In this case his name is Chad (which seems a more suitable name for a Harvard college man than a biker, but ok) and it turns out his bike has broKen Down in the middle of a Midwestern town. A town that is oppressed by an uptight mayor who has issued a "decency proclamation" (Footloose anyone?) on all the townspeople. Chad (Michael Carrasco) takes his bike to the best motorcycle mechanic in town, who happens to be a woman named Natalie (Rachel Pallante). Natalie falls for Chad, natch. Meanwhile, Chad's randy influence gets all over everyone in town and one by one, everybody starts falling in love. It's two hours worth of unsurprising but amusing plot twists full of unrequited love and spurned lovers finding their way to and from one another in ways that are too complicated to detail here. In the end, they all find their way to their right and perfect partners, all strung together by the music made famous by Elvis.

What the script lacks in substance is made up for in the delicate balance the cast and director Jarret Mallon have achieved in a delivery thaT Lovingly spoofs the genre without overplaying it. It's a balance that calls for that sweet spot between actors chewing the scenery in over acted parody or alienating the audience by believing themselves too much. The result is campy fun. Rachel Hoover (Music Director) and Kimberly Schafer (Choreographer) hold up their end of the collaboration strongly, and in such a small space, Schafer gets points for achieving dance numbers that don't look restrictive.

It's not an easy feat to find a cast who can all hold up their collective end of the bargain for characters this evenly written. There is a song and dance ensemble, but each of the ten featured roles in the show are, if not weighty, written with a constant opportunity to command and share the stage with the leads. They are roles that any actor should be pleased to play. Roles that call for skill and professionalism and a learned understanding of pacing - or else run the risk of the show crumbling right around the rest of the cast. This cast did not disappoint. Not one of them. And as one might expect in shows such as this, the icing on the cake comes with two of the smaller roles played by Polly Seale (Mayor Matilda) and Curt Olsen (Earl.)

Despite so many local theatres currently offering an endless array of jukebox musicals, TexArts delivers a strong production that stands above the rest. It's a good thing, with such a feather-weight script, that this cast has some formidable heavy hitters. It might not be Shakespeare or Ibsen, but this production of ALL SHOOK UP is just the right antidote for all the rain, politicking and back to school mayhem at the moment. Go see. It's fun.

ALL SHOOK UP inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presley with book by Joe DiePietro.

Running time: Two hours with a fifteen minute intermission

ALL SHOOK UP, produced by TexArts, TexArts Kam and James Morris Theatre, 2300 Lohmans Spur, Austin, TX 78734. August 18th-21st. Tickets available at texarts.org. 512.861-0069.

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From This Author Joni Lorraine

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