Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
As far as jukebox musicals go, All Shook Up wasn't the Broadway hit that Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia! are (this year's Beautiful looks to be joining their ranks as well), but this fun and engaging show based on songs made famous by the King of rock 'n' roll is much better than most in the genre and is ideal for a dinner theater setting. La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio (situated between Cincinnati and Dayton), is currently staging a perfectly cast, high-octane, and very funny production that is sure to please theatergoers.
In All Shook Up, a motorcycle riding "roustabout" comes into a small Midwestern town in 1955 and shakes the residents out of their repressed doldrums. With his magic touch for stirring up love and music within everyone, multiple romantic entanglements ensue.
The book by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) wisely never takes itself too seriously, and is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. With a knowing wink, the story is purposely cheesy in spots, which makes some of the absurd plot twists and unbelievable girl-in-disguise-as-a-guy device palatable. Even with the corny and fantasy-heavy book, All Shook Up has likeable characters, honest emotions, a fun and funny tone, and a moral center that addresses such issues as acceptance and tolerance of interracial couples and differing sexual orientations. In addition, the transitions from book scenes to songs occur more organically than in most jukebox shows. Though act one is significantly stronger than the second half of the show, it's an easy show enjoy.
The songs that Elvis made famous were written by a smorgasbord of composers and lyricists. The score has a needed theatrical flavor, thanks to some wonderful arrangements based on the original work by Stephen Oremus and Michael Gibson that make many of the numbers sound fresh and new. Song highlights include "Love Me Tender," "Jailhouse Rock," a fun combination of "Teddy Bear"/"Hound Dog," "Blue Suede Shoes," "If I Can Dream," and a beautiful choral arrangement of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." As with any jukebox musical, however, some song lyrics don't fit either the plot or the characters very well since they weren't written in the context of the story.
La Comedia has done a stellar job casting this production. Michael Karracker has the cool charisma and smooth singing to tackle the rebel character and songs as Chad, but wisely doesn't try to imitate Elvis vocally. As Natalie, Maria Pedro is a spunky leading lady and displays a competent singing voice, the necessary tomboy awkwardness, and worthwhile physical comedy. Chris Giordano (Dennis) is a likeable comic nerd and sings well. Tiara Nicole Whaley (Lorraine) and Michael Luongo (Dean) appealingly portray the juvenile would-be lovers, and come through with some of the best musical moments in the show. As Sylvia, the DeAun Parker is both vocally powerful and emotionally touching. As the oldest of the romantically entangled, Chris Kramer (Jim) is funny, and captures a fish-out-of-water eagerness which is fitting to the character. As Miss Sandra, Karie-Lee Sutherland is sultry, displays wonderful stage presence, and is a fine vocalist. The hard-working ensemble deserves praise as well.
Director/choreographer Chris Beiser infuses great energy into the production, skillfully incorporates dance into many scenes, and stages the show to convey both the very effective humor of the piece, as well as the inter-relationships of the characters. The tone of the musical remains appropriately loose, lively, whimsical, and knowingly campy in Mr. Beiser's capable hands. Music director Becky Barrett-Jones has prepared the cast well vocally, with some fine choral work in addition to the first-rate solo work.
Joe Leonard's suitable scenic design functions well in communicating the many settings of the show, but is a bit cumbersome to move during scene transitions. The apt lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn serves the piece sufficiently, and the costumes by A. T. Jones suitably evoke the 1950s.
All Shook Up lacks depth and much sense of reality, but scores lots of points as a funny and entertaining showcase of the songs by Elvis. Familiar songs and a not-too-serious approach to forming a story around them result in a show that has a good heart and is a true crowd pleaser. The cast and creative staff are to be commended for making this one of the best productions at La Comedia in years. All Shook Up continues through June 29, 2014. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-677-9505 or visiting www.lacomedia.com.-- Scott Cain