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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

All Shook Up Gyrates into the Paramount

Also see David's review of Seattle Men's Chorus Joy

All Shook Up
Joe Mandragona and
Susan Anton

A show that I felt got unjustly caught up in the anti-jukebox musical whiplash on Broadway in 2005, All Shook Up, still showed enough crowd appeal to justify a national tour, which is swingin' in Seattle through Sunday. Anyone wanting a musical that is fresh from Broadway, is not a Christmas show, that the whole family can enjoy should get to the Paramount box-office post haste. The only thing that could have made it a more enjoyable show for Puget Sound audiences would have been the presence of former Seattle favorite Cheyenne Jackson reprising his outstanding Broadway performance as lead character/Elvis prototype Chad. But with film (United 93) and future Broadway projects in Cheyenne's career trajectory that wasn't going to happen. Nonetheless, the show, smartly directed by Christopher Ashley, with dynamic Sergio Trujillo choreography has not been compromised in quality for the road tour, which should be glad tidings to those skeptical about plunking down the $$$, after disappointments like the recent Molly Ringwald tour of Sweet Charity.

The plot of Joe Pietro's funny and clever book sandwiches in 26 Elvis Presley song hits by various composers and lyricists around a story that brings to mind bits and pieces of just about every movie musical Presley ever made. Roustabout Chad rides his motorcycle to a small blip of a Midwest town which is just aching for the kind of music, love and romance (not to mention physical gyrations) he has to offer, despite protests from the town's uptight lady Mayor. He falls hard for the sultry, older Miss Sandra who has a newly opened museum featuring statues of classical figures. He is totally oblivious to the fact that the tomboyish auto mechanic Natalie Haller has flipped for him. Natalie passes herself off to Chad as Ed, a kindred spirit of a fellow roustabout, whom Chad dubs his sidekick. Natalie's own appeal and longing for Chad comes through her male drag and Chad finds himself in a quandary Elvis never did, as he falls for Ed. The end result will not surprise anyone, but there is so much to enjoy along the way, and the cast is so engaging that who the hell cares?

As Chad, actor Joe Mandragona has the gyrations and manner of Presley down pat, especially in the opening "Jailhouse Rock." Though vocally Mandragona is not in a Presley league, and is a little short of stature for this role, he is ultimately quite satisfactory, and like the rest of the cast grounds his cardboard character with just enough honesty. As Natalie/Ed, Jenny Fellner is a charmer, feisty, winsome and packing a rangy vocal prowess on songs like "One  Night With You" and especially "Fools Fall in Love."

As Natalie's Dad Jim, Wally Dunn makes a fun transformation from a sad sack middle-aged auto mechanic to a revived former biker, and is wonderfully engaging in his act one duet to "Blue Suede Shoes" with Mandragona's Chad, and in act two's "The Power of my Love" where Chad and Jim both try to seduce Miss Sandra. Speaking of Miss Sandra, what fun to have a blast from the past in the still shapely form of Susan Anton, who is clearly having such fun playing this Stella Stevens prototype bombshell that her enthusiasm is positively contagious, and her featured number "Let Yourself Go" in which her statues come to life is way too much fun.

Also notable is a comically strong and vocally outstanding turn by the talented Dennis Moench as geeky Dennis, particularly delivering a smashing version of "It Hurts Me." Understudy Aurelia Williams, covering the role of restaurant owner Sylvia, displayed peerless comic timing, and vocal pipes that rocked every seat in the Paramount in her solo moments of "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Love Me Tender" and her knockout solo song, "There's Always Me." If there was an audience favorite on opening night, it was clearly Miss Williams.  Beth Glover takes her Mayor Matilda to the precipice of campiness but doesn't overdo, and her "Devil in Disguise" number is another high point of the production. Brian Sears as her son Dean and Valisia Lekae Little as Lorraine his love interest (and Sylvia's daughter) score charmingly in roles that could easily seem fairly extraneous, save the fact that the pair are the set-up for one of the show's best and funniest plot twists. The entire ensemble sings with strength and clarity, and dances with spirit and style. You come out of All Shook Up feeling energized!

Encoring their Broadway assignments, set designer David Rockwell, costume designer David C. Woolard and lighting designer Donald Holder each make notable contributions, with Rockwell's sets clearly a stellar example of less is more, when in such talented hands.  The pit band led by Conductor/Keyboard player David Pepin offers strong musical stylings and Christopher K. Bond's well-executed sound design ensures that you can catch even the few unfamiliar song lyrics.  Especially considering that seats are not to be had at White Christmas across the street, if you are craving a fun holiday evening without a serious bone in its body, then go get All Shook Up.

All Shook Up runs through December 17, 2006 at the Paramount, 9th & Pine in downtown Seattle. For more information go online at www.theparamount.com.


Photo: Carol Rosegg



- David-Edward Hughes



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