By Pat Launer
If you wanna get “All Shook Up,” you’ll have to hightail it over to Vista, where hips are swiveling and forbidden love is blooming.
“All Shook Up” is a 2005 jukebox musical (with an actual jukebox onstage!) that borrows 25 songs from Elvis’ films and recordings. As usual in these cases, a story is uncomfortably grafted onto the music (book-writer Joe DiPietro won a Tony for “Memphis”).
Here, slipped into the mix are allusions to Shakespeare (there’s a very loose relationship to “Twelfth Night,” and a couple of sonnets rear their heads), along with other cultural references, from Rodin and Degas sculptures (that spring to life) to a quick riff on the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” In other words, it’s something of a mishmash.
Fortunately, the show never takes itself seriously — though 2½ hours is a serious amount of time for a goofy musical, even one with terrific singing and fabulous dancing.
The opening is a super high-octane rendition of “Jailhouse Rock,” which doesn’t seem to have much connection to the rest of the story, but it’s a perfect showcase for the exceptional voice, moves and gyrating pelvis of Michael James Byrne as Chad, the tough-looking, leather-jacketed, tight-pants Roustabout (wrong use of the word here, which typically refers to carneys or oil rig workers — but it was the name of a 1964 Elvis movie). A handsome ‘Bad Boy’ type (references to Brando in “The Wild One”) rolls into Smalltown Midwest America on his motorcycle and re-introduces the repressed residents to the magic of music, dance, following your dreams and falling in love.
Much like the town (and storyline) in “Footloose,” the place is under the thumb of a hidebound leader — in this case, a prudish, moralizing female Mayor (funny Tracy Lore), who has just instituted the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act, which forbids public necking, tight pants and jukebox music.
The local mechanic who’s gonna fix Chad’s ailing bike is Natalie (spunky Katherine McDonough), who falls instantly in love with him. Dennis (Jake Saenz), the town nerd, has always loved Natalie. Chad ignores drooling Natalie and is smitten by the sexy museum curator, Miss Sandra (buxom Christine Hewitt). Meanwhile, the Mayor’s son (Nick Eiter), a military cadet, falls head over heels for Lorraine (Yvonne) who’s African American, which renders his mother apoplectic. Lorraine’s mother (powerhouse Vonetta Mixson) has eyes for Natalie’s widowed father (Todd Nielsen) who, like Chad, can’t take his eyes off Sandra. You got all that? Wait, there’s more.
Desperate for Chad’s attention, Natalie becomes Ed, dressing as a guy so she can hang with him and be his sidekick. She’s supposed to woo Sandra for Chad, but the courtship sonnet was suggested by Dennis, not Chad. In their camaraderie, Chad is shocked to find himself drawn to Ed. Sandra’s also drawn to Ed (this is the “Twelfth Night” cross-dress/confusion part).
Pretty convoluted and protracted (it took four paragraphs just to lay down the plot!). And all the while, it’s trying to make a statement about accepting unconventional relationships and recognizing the power of music to inspire dream-following and social change.
Of course, at the end, everyone is transformed and everything gets sorted out, resulting in multiple marriages and a couple of unexpected matchups. Shakespeare, this ain’t.
But it’s a boatload of fun. Speaking of which, there are actually boats onstage, in addition to the motorcycle and a cleverly conceived Greyhound bus. Gondolas sail on as part of the Tunnel of Love scene in the requisite abandoned Fairground. The excellent sets, props and costumes were rented through The Music and Theatre Company, headquartered in San Diego. The lighting (Jean-Yves Tessier) and sound (Jim Zadai) are impressive as well.
All of the ten named characters are superbly portrayed by strong actor/singers, and in the case of Byrne, McDonough and Saenz, outstanding dancers. Charlie Williams has directed and choreographed with impressive imagination and panache; the dance moves are delightfully unpredictable, and it’s all admirably executed by a talented ensemble of 16. The 12-piece orchestra, under the baton of musical director Lyndon Pugeda, is robust and rockin’.
The pace flags a little in the second act, with its surfeit of ballads and reprises. But the energy remains high, and everyone — onstage and in the audience — seems to be having a great time.
So, to borrow from the Elvis catalog (and the show’s song list), “C’mon Everybody,” “It’s Now or Never.” Put on your “Blue Suede Shoes,” check out of the “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Let Yourself Go.” At Moonlight Stage Productions, you’ll find a hunk-a hunk-a “Burning Love” for Elvis, tolerance, silliness and hip-grinding fun.
- “All Shook Up” runs through June 27 at the Moonlight Stage at Brengle Terrace Park, 1200 Vale Terrace Dr., Vista
- Performances are Wednesday-Sunday at 8 p.m.
- Tickets ($24-$52) are available at 760-724-2110 or online www.moonlightstage.com
- Running time: 2 1/2 hrs.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.