Thursday, July 3, 2014

Theater Review: All Shook Up -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Mara J Herman and Nicholas Park lead the Cast of All Shook Up. Photo: Anne Hudson
Elvis Tunes Shake Up Some Cool Notes on a Hot Summer’s Day
By Lauren Yarger
Throw together love at first sight, a silly plot, a girl masquerading as a boy to get near the one she loves and a couple of sonnets and you might think you’ve landed at Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Stir in some Evis Preseley tunes, though, and you’ve got All Shook Up rocking the stage and making audiences laugh at Ivoryton Playhouse.

With a book by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Nice Work if You Can Get It, The Toxic Avenger, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), one of Broadway’s best and funniest script writers, this silly musical is perfect summer fun.

It’s 1955 in a “small you-never-heard-of-it town somewhere in the Midwest” where the town’s mayor and self-appointed moral compass Matilda Hyde (Melissa McLean) has just passed her Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act and expects meek sheriff Earl (Larry Lewis) to enforce it. Chad (Preston Ellis), a blue-suede-shoe wearing, guitar playing visitor might make that difficult, however, when he gets everyone All Shook Up with his pelvis swirling dancing and good looks.

He’s exactly what Natalie Haller (Danielle Bowen) has been waiting for to get her out of the sleepy town where she works as an auto mechanic at the gas station owned by her dad, Jim (R. Bruce Connelly). She is unaware that hometown geek and best friend, Dennis (Nicholas Park), is smitten with her, however, despite his attempts to let her know. When Chad falls for Miss Sandra (Mara Jill Herman), the new head of the town museum, Natalie tries to be like her. When that fails, she becomes “Ed,” a rough-around-the-edges man so she can be best friends with Chad.

The plan backfires on many levels when Miss Sandra falls for Ed.

Meanwhile, Jim’s longtime friend, Sylvia (Onyie), finds that she has feelings for him, but perhaps too late, since he falls in love with Miss Sandra. Sylvia’s daughter, Lorraine (Danielle Famble), also is in love, but with the mayor’s son, Dean (Logan Scott Mitchell), and their inter-racial romance will probably violate that Decency Act…. That’s nothing, however, compared to Chad’s realization that he might be falling for “Ed.”
If it sounds confusing, it’s not. It’s just silly and with DiPietro’s laugh-out-loud jokes penned in between, it’s highly entertaining.

“You’re all going to hell,” Matilda tells the townspeople. “Have a nice day.”

The set, designed by Cully Long, also contributes to the fun with cartoonish styling including a cardboard-looking motorcycle for Chad to roll in on and a goofy bus that had the audience in stitches. The set pieces also roll, rotate and open to reveal different settings in the town including the gas station, Sylvia’s beer joint and the statue garden at the museum.

Director Richard Amelius, who also appears in the ensemble, assembles a talented cast and choreographs numbers that don’t overwhelm. Bowen, relatively new to the stage (she’s a senior at Emerson College and non-Equity), is a strong lead. All are in good voice and each character is notable. Connelly is his usual charming self as the father trying to learn how to be cool; McLean is the right combination of priggish and funny; Park is engaging and shows an aptitude for comedy. Standing out in the ensemble are Lewis (with only a few lines of dialogue) and La’Nette Wallace with some great vocals.

A couple of tweaks: the tempo is too slow at times (Musical Direction by Logan Medland), though the seven-person band housed offstage sounds good. Also, Prentiss -- though he throws himself into the role adequately enough -- is miscast. His higher tenor doesn’t fit the more baritone Elvis tunes and he just seems too nice to be the self-centered, love-’em-and-leave-’em Chad.

The tunes include “Love Me Tender,” Heartbreak Hotel,” It’s now or Never,” Don’t Be Cruel,” Fools Fall in Love,” One Night with You” (which gets used in a very funny repeated gag) and, of course, the title song. It’s a fun was to spend just over two hours in the nicely air-conditioned playhouse.

The Ensemble: Julianna Alvord, Caroline Jackson, Amanda Lupacchino, Jenna Rapisarda, Stephanie Wasser, Richard Amelius, Ryan Bloomquist, Darrell T. Joe, Xavier Reyes, Dyllan Vallier, Lincoln Ward, Phil Young

All Shook Up runs through July 27. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8; extra matinees for this show on Saturday, July 19 and 26 at 2 pm. Tickets $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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