Review: ALL SHOOK UP (San Diego Musical Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on August 4, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

A HUNK-A HUNK-A BURNING FUN

On the heels of Cygnet’s Rock of Ages, in which every tune is an 80s hit, comes San Diego Musical Theatre’s staging of All Shook Up, in which every musical moment is an Elvis Presley song. (It played Broadway in 2005 with 213 performances.) It’s an interesting trend, fitting in with the likes of Mamma Mia (Abba), Movin’ Out (Billy Joel), and Escape to Marguaritaville (Jimmy Buffet). Even with the built-in intrigue for fans of the original melodies, the concept piques one’s curiosity to see if the songs will make sense in a new context. There’s little in between with these jukebox musicals — either it works or it feels gimmicky.

Whereas the songs in Mamma Mia feel rather shoehorned into the script, it is a credit to All Shook Up book writer, Joe DiPietro, that attendees who aren’t familiar with Elvis’s oeuvre could easily believe that all the songs are original. Indeed, not only do they make sense where they are used, but the tunes are sometimes more touching here — with new connotations connected to the previous dialogue or because of the actor’s interpretation. Given the vastness of Presley’s collection, many audience members will be introduced to at least a few Elvis songs that were unfamiliar to them.

As for the second concern — building a storyline around songs that were never intended to be connected — DiPietro creates lovable characters, interesting plot twists, and successful moments of humor that come together delightfully. Happily, his plot would be worthy entertainment even if every song were replaced.

Chad (Jesse Bradley) is a biker/drifter who could be described as a cross between Elvis and a Fonzie caricature. He comes to a small Midwestern town in the summer of 1955 where, √° la Footloose, pop music and public displays of affection have been banned by Mayor Hyde (Barbara Schoenhofer). Unlike Footloose, though, this situation merely colors the plot without becoming the focus. The story is really more about layer-upon-layer of unrequited love. Nerdy dentist-to-be Dennis (Noah Filley) secretly pines for his best friend Natalie (Krista Feallock) who works at the car repair shop. Natalie wants to throw away her good-girl nature to let loose with sexy Chad, who writes her off as “a grease monkey.” Chad himself is swooning for the luscious museum curator Miss Sandra (Sami Nye), the only woman in town utterly resistant to Chad’s charms. And so on through the town. The big monkey-wrench comes when Natalie decides to cross-dress as “Ed” to become Chad’s buddy, as a means to get close enough to understand how he ticks.

Part of what made Elvis’s songs so iconic was his blending of all of the diverse musical influences of his youth: country, gospel, pop, and R&B. DiPietro explores new derivations, allowing the lyrics to grow while respecting the roots. Sometimes, he even reflects Elvis’s foundations, such as adding a pleasing gospel roundness to “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Choreographer Michel Mizerany holds back nothing in his expectations of the ensemble. While the dance caliber won’t match Broadway levels, given the complexity of his choices and the small size of the Horton Grand stage, the results are still admirable and entertaining.

Even with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments under Robert J. Townsend’s direction, one stand-out is Ms. Schoenhofer who eats up every scene she enters. While plenty of credit goes to her well-written lines, Ms. Schoenhofer’s weaving of both acerbic bitterness and acute primness is delightful; she is the perfect blend of Will & Grace‘s Karen Walker and Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith.

With wonderful classic songs, solid voices, a fun script, and enjoyable dance moves, All Shook Up is a great way to shake up your evening.

photos by Ken Jacques courtesy of SDMT

All Shook Up
San Diego Musical Theatre
Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat 8; Sun at 2
ends on September 1, 2019
for tickets, call 858.560.5740 or visit SDMT

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Corey Hable August 17, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Wonderful review! Such kind and loving words for a production that truly knocked my socks off! However, it is a bit disappointing to see yet another review of this incredible musical that fails to mention the tight band, strong conducting by Andrew Orbison, and the musical direction by Don LeMaster. It is a MUSIC-al after all and the work of these people should be recognized.

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