All Shook Up
Your blue suede shoes nostalgia stays pristine with Bill Hanney's The North Shore Music Theatre's rousing production of "All Shook Up," the jukebox musical that takes its score from Elvis Presley's top 40 hits.
The exuberant show, a Broadway hit in 2004, is expertly and wittily directed by Russell Garrett. He has extensive experience directing for NSMT owner/producer Mr. Hanney at his Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island (that success led to Hanney re-opening the Beverly theater-in-the round in 2010). He's paired well with the business-wise Hanney who has a nose for shows with strong audience appeal. Garrett keeps "All Shook Up" moving at a fast clip without losing the more touching moments that give the story its emotional weight. He's also skilled with the challenges of theater-in-the round and uses the aisles and a hydraulic lift center stage to great effect.
In a story that recalls the movie "Footloose," a leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding, and, yes, blue suede shoe sporting, roustabout named Chad pulls into a drowsy small Midwestern town looking to have his bike tuned up. Local up-and-coming dream boat Ryan Overberg (a rising senior at The Boston Conservatory) is eye candy perfection in the part, and to add to the look that teases, he can sing and dance well too.
The character of Chad lacks the edginess Presley thrillingly projected through 44 movies, concert stages and Vegas, and TV screens, but with Overberg’s Adonis like physique, every peck and bulge visible in tight fitting black attire, and the handy guitar he wields like Cupid’s arrow, he’ll do to stir the sexual longings of a citizenry that’s longing for a jolt.
The town has a mayor, played drolly by TV sitcom "Three’s Company" star Joyce deWitt, who’s put the kibosh on anything that hints at free wheeling fun (and that includes "mixing of the races," as she obnoxiously exclaims). Her law enforcement backup is the much put upon Sheriff Turner aptly played with an old boy laconic slouch by J.T. Turner, who then shows some unexpected snap when the time is ripe.
The wiz mechanic at the gas station is tomboy Natalie Haller who falls head over heels for the roustabout. She can fix any thing on wheels but she’s out of luck in seducing Chad, or so it seems at first.
Then when she makes herself up as a boy she names Ed to be his sidekick, well, Chad, finds he’s attracted to his insecure wonderment at this same sex hot burning lust.
Chad’s not the only suitor Natalie/Ed turns on. Charmingly portrayed by the impishly appealing Dara Hartman, who, by the way, has a magnificent singing voice, Natalie/Ed is a pivotal character in this farcical misadventure of romances and partnering. Just about everybody is infected by the spirit of the song "Can’t Help Falling in Love."
Sprightly told, fabulously sung and danced, the two and a half hour show is a welcomed blast from the past. The original jaunty choreography from Kiesha Lalama adds immeasurably to the show’s appeal (it’s great fun watching the smart ensemble work throughout).
Anne Shuttleworth enthusiastically conducts a ten-person orchestra (nearly as large as the national touring company version and right on the money with its accompaniment). The 50s outfits from Paula Peasley-Ninestein are a delightful fashion stroll to the Eisenhower era of big skirts and bobby socks. The wigs and hair design from Gerard Kelly nicely supplement the picture perfect take on a fashion period that hopefully stays put in its time. David Neville atmospherically lights the show.
The heft in the light-hearted fairy tale storyline otherwise told in broad strokes comes from Shakespeare no less, whose comedy of mistaken identity "Twelfth Night" is the basis for the rollicking script from Joe DiPietro. (DiPietro went on to win a Tony Award for the current hit "Memphis" in 2010.)
There’s loads more Shakespeare deftly at play in this story which is fun to identify for those who are into that sort of theater trivia game.
In "All Shook Up" characters fall instantly in love, sometimes inappropriately, to the opening bars of "One Night With You" which is reminiscent of that other Bard favorite Puck and his tricks in "Midsummer’s Night’s Dream." A sonnet plays a key part in the plot too.
The sweetest romance is a Romeo and Juliet riff. There’s the mayor’s son, nicely played by Eric Hatch who is enamored of African-American cutie Lorraine, played by Laquet Sharnell, a diminutive actress with a great smile and outstanding singing voice. She’s the daughter of the local restaurant owner named Sylvia who in this game of Shakespeare references immediately brings to mind the verse "Who is Sylvia that all our swains commend her."
Robustly played by Jannie Jones with a voice of operatic quality, she movingly delivers the poignant ballad "There’s Always Me." (Previously she played Sylvia in the national touring company of "All Shook Up"). She’s taken by Natalie’s dad, a widow with a past endearingly played by Paul Sabala who, of course, is smitten by another.
To add to the fun is the local museum curator, the gorgeous Miss Sandra, exquisitely portrayed for her reserve that gets all shook up by the vivacious comedienne/actress Coleen Sexton.
"All Shook Up" is by far, more rewarding and emotionally involving than many of its brethren show culled out of a sentimental journey to the music that was the backdrop and sentimental narrative to teenage years gone by. This lively production won’t scuff your memories.
"All Shook Up" Tuesdays through Sundays through August 26 at NSMT, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. For tickets and info you can phone 978-232-7200 or go on-line to www.nsmt.org.