Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre

A fun and entertaining musical featuring the music of Elvis Presley on stage through March 10th in Winter Garden

By: Feb. 18, 2024
Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre
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Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre In the world of jukebox musicals (musicals which craft a story around a well-known catalog of music, usually from a famous and recognizable artist), the best way to ensure something entertaining and enjoyable is to either use the music in an organic way, often telling the story of the artist themselves (e.g., BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL) or to go the opposite route and create something over the top with a loose narrative, allowing the audience to focus primarily on the music they love and the performances on stage (and not get bogged down by plot). It is this second option that describes ALL SHOOK UP, a musical featuring the songs of Elvis Presley. And in the talented hands of the cast and creatives of The Garden Theatre’s latest production, ALL SHOOK UP thrills and entertains and has the audience cheering and dancing in the aisles.

Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT and set on one summer day in 1955, ALL SHOOK UP tells the story of Chad (John Rochette), a “roustabout” who, after being let out of jail (and, of course, singing “Jailhouse Rock” while he is there) rides into a small midwestern town to get his motorcycle repaired but as soon as he arrives his pelvic gyrations, his signature lip curl and his confidence immediately electrify the citizens. You see, they have all been oppressed by local mayor Matilda Hyde (Bailee McQueen) whose laws banning anything that could lead to sin and degradation including tight pants, loud music, and public “necking” have the town itching for something exciting and new. One of those caught in the “roustabout’s” net is Natalie Haller (Rachel Hope Ihasz) the daughter of gas station owner, Jim Haller (Christopher Russell) and a grease monkey in her own right. She immediately falls for Chad and makes it her mission to woo him (including the very Shakespearean donning of men’s clothes and becoming “Ed” to get closer to him), much to the chagrin of her awkward and nerdy best friend Dennis (Zachary Mitchell) who harbors a secret crush on Natalie. Chad’s influence starts to unravel the quiet, orderly town, stirring up feelings amongst the most unlikely of couples (including the Mayor’s son, Dean (Joel Hunt) and Lorraine (Stephanie Dorcely), the daughter of Sylvia (Stephanie Zandra) who runs the local Honky Tonk on “the wrong side of the tracks”. But don’t worry, as with any good musical comedy, the town comes out better for the experience, love is requited (if in some unexpected ways), and the audience gets treated to numerous colorful, electric, and exciting production numbers and beautifully arranged, introspective love songs straight out of Elvis Presley’s impressive catalog of hits.

Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre As you might have picked up from my introduction, ALL SHOOK UP, particularly its book, is light on plot, sometimes goofy, and never too serious – which works just fine for a musical that in many ways is a send up of some of the films that Elvis himself starred in back in the day. Book writer Joe DiPietro crafts just enough of a story to build tension and interest, but really lets the familiar music do the entertainment heavy lifting. And speaking of the music, if it is an Elvis Presley favorite, it is probably somewhere in this show – which includes an impressive 25 different songs from the King’s catalog including “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and, of course, the title number.

ALL SHOOK UP was my first opportunity to attend a production at The Garden Theatre and I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the production overall. Director (and newly named Producing Creative Director) Rob Winn Anderson, does an excellent job keeping the action moving forward without missing any chances to maximize the entertainment factor of the show. He has assembled a stellar cast (more on them in a moment) for this production and some highly skilled creatives to bring the vision of ALL SHOOK UP to vivid, technicolor life on the Garden stage.

Review: ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre As mentioned, the cast of The Garden Theatre’s ALL SHOOK UP is excellent to a person, with an energetic and emotive ensemble who brings to life the highly enjoyable production numbers and form the backbone on stage. The principal actors each bring their own significant talents to the stage. John Rochette gives a solid performance as the smoldering roustabout, Chad, and he does a good job delivering Chad’s signature moves and songs. As Natalie, Rachel Hope Ihasz has an effervescence about her, and is convincing as “Ed” as well. Zachary Mitchell gives a refreshing and conflicted performance as the lovelorn Dennis, with a rousing second act showstopper in “It Hurts Me”. As Jim Haller, Christopher Russell portrays well the father still pining for his dead wife and challenged to move forward with some nice, subtle, but serious moments in an otherwise silly story. Bailee McQueen’s portrayal of Mayor Matilda Hyde, is delicious, scene chewing (in a good way) and makes the audience love to hate her. And even her silent enforcer, Sheriff Earl, has his moments, which Dustin Cunningham delivers well. As young, star-crossed lovers Dean and Lorraine, Joel Hunt and Stephanie Dorcely are sweet and naïve one moment, then singing each other’s faces off the next – their amazing voices together create some of the most thrilling duets of the evening including “It’s Now or Never” and “If I Can Dream”. Speaking of voices, I must say that I was blown away by the performance by Stephanie Zandra as Sylvia. Her poise, delivery, and ability to bring down the roof with her amazing voice (especially in the second act’s “There’s Always Me”) was a real highlight of the evening.

The creative designs that frame ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre all work together to punctuate the tone and mood of the evening. From Joe C. Klug’s scenic designs, including a nostalgic backdrop of advertising signage and a thoroughly impressive set of oversized lighted letters from the fairground. Erin Miner’s lighting and Samuel Finken’s sound designs ensure the cast is seen and heard and helps create an overall aesthetic that works well on stage. Gabs Gutierrez’ costumes are colorful and period perfect (I may need to find a place to buy myself Chad’s second act striped shirt) and Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s wigs work marvelously to bring to vivid life the characters on stage. Finally, Music Director Jason M. Bailey does a great job with the vocal delivery, often creating a wall of beautiful, harmonic sound from this vocally skilled cast.

Overall, ALL SHOOK UP at The Garden Theatre is musical escapism at its best. It is a light, accessible story, delivered by an extremely talented cast, whose primary goal is to bring smiles to the audience’s faces. And judging by the reaction of the crowd – their mission is being accomplished every night. And whether you are a lifelong Elvis fan or just a fan of great musical theatre performances, don’t miss your chance to see this production before it rides off (on a motorcycle, naturally) into the sunset.

 

ALL SHOOK UP, presented by The Garden Theatre, runs through March 10th.  Performances take place at The Garden Theatre, 160 West Plant Street, Winter Garden, FL 34787. Tickets (starting at $45, with discounts for military, first responders, teachers, seniors, and students, and groups of 10 or more) an be purchased by calling the Garden Theatre box office at 407.877.GRDN (4736) ext. 0 or visiting https://gardentheatre.org/event/all-shook-up/. For more information visit https://gardentheatre.org.

ABOUT THE GARDEN THEATRE
Located in the heart of historic downtown Winter Garden on Plant Street, Garden Theatre is a nonprofit organization committed to providing programming from the spectrum of the arts to engage, entertain, educate, and inspire all who experience it. Originally built in 1935 as a single-screen cinema, Garden Theatre was restored and reopened in 2008, keeping the Mediterranean Revival style, modeled after a Spanish courtyard with “Romeo and Juliet” balconies and a dark blue ceiling resplendent with stars. Garden Theatre hosts live plays, concerts, movies, and more to the residents of and visitors to the city of Winter Garden.

Photos by Bagwell Photography as provided by The Garden Theatre

Lead Photo: Rachel Hope Ihasz and John Rochette
Top Photo: John Rochette, Rachel Hope Ihasz, 
Stephanie Dorcely, and Joel Hunt
Mid Photo 1: Joel Hunt and Stephanie Dorcely
Mid Photo 2: Rachel Hope Ihasz and John Rochette
Bottom Photo: Joel Hunt, John RochetteStephanie Dorcely, and Rachel Hope Ihasz




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