ALL SHOOK UP – Music written for Elvis Presley; Book by Joe Pietro; Directed by Kris Graves and Rebekah Ortiz; Musical Direction by Andrew Fischer; Choreographed by Christopher Languich. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main St, Littleton) through October 15. Tickets available at 303/794-2787 or townhallartscenter.org.
A memory: In 1956, one Saturday night, I was in a drive-in theatre (remember those?) in Champaign, Illinois watching a new movie, LOVE ME TENDER. When an actor made a quiet entrance walking across a field to greet his returning Confederate soldier brother, the whole place erupted in a cacophony of screams, yells, and horns honking welcoming Elvis Presley to his cinematic life – be that as it may. It was given that if you grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, you were fans of Elvis and the Beatles. The closest I ever got to him – closer than a lot, but not close enough – was watchng one of his Vegas shows sitting quietly on a stool backstage as the guest of one of his back up dancers. Must have been in the mid-60’s because he still looked good and sounded great. Then he had the audacity to pass away three days before my birthday – forever casting a pall pre-birthday for me every year since.
So you can only imagine the anticipation of my excursion to see ALL SHOOK UP knowing it was going to feature the music of Elvis. Even with that heightened anticipation, I was not disappointed. This whole cast pulls together to bring this sweet look at the 50’s in a small town – which could be where I grew up in rural Illinois. They caught the optimism, the fun, the music, the hope, and the need for change. All the while, singing and dancing their little booties off.
It’s even a stronger book than most jukebox–type shows. Kind of a mid-America HAIRSPRAY in 1956 with a male lead, its story explores the same social issues with the same tongue-in-cheek humor and teenage angst. A mysterious stranger named Chad rides into town on his motorcycle, bursting the balloon of anyone in this small town who thought they were hot. He is the epitome of cool, immediately creating a ripple of hope through the female population, both young and older. Nick Rogers (is that a movie star name or what?) plays Chad with the requisite tight jeans and swagger. He even captures the surprise of new love with charm and innocence. In his first professional job in town, he is definitely making a splash.
The women in question include Natalie (Megan Schraeder), a tomboyish mechanic who falls hard, and most of the girls in the ensemble. Even Matilda (Jennifer Burnett), the hard-nosed Mayor, seems impressed. But then the Shakespearean twists and turns start happening. Dennis (Michael Spahn) loves Natalie – Natalie loves Chad – Chad loves Miss Sandra (Faith Siobahn Ford) – Miss Sandra’s not having any of it. Sylvia (Arabella Beaubrun), the local bar owner, loves Jim (Damon Guerrasio), Natalie’s father, who thinks he too loves Miss Sandra . . . and it goes on and on like this for the better part of an hour. Natalie even disguises herself (not very well) as a guy for a time to get close to Chad.
Even as convoluted as all this sounds, in the hands of this talented cast, it’s all crystal clear and fun for their audience to watch unfold. And, of course, everyone ends up with who they should end up with at the end. It’s fun to see familiar faces in new roles. Arabella knocks her second act solo – a sultry and mournful “There’s Always Me” from a 1961 album – completely out of the ballpark. The same can be said about Michael Spahn who broke our hearts as the sidekick friend left behind singing “It Hurts Me.” Megan Schraeder took her place at the top of the playlist with multiple songs – most notably “One Night With You” which, with a light flicker, became the signal for erotic thoughts surfacing. It got repeated a lot! Elton Tanega comes back to Town Hall to play Dean, sent to military school to keep him out of harm’s way by Mother Mayor Matilda, an action that proved to be too little too late. His girlfriend Lorraine, played with great energy by Nicole Siegler, taught him that “It’s Now or Never.”
All in all, it’s very encouraging to see the talent and training of this young cast come forth. It means that Denver is guaranteed musicals for decades to come. It’s also great to see the familiar faces go from show to show demonstrating the versatility of their talent. Damon Guerrasio can play nearly everything, including musical instruments and parts, and never fails to delight. Speaking of delight, keep your eye on Brian Watson playing Earl the Sheriff, under the thumb of Mayor Matilda. Supposedly.
This whole evening was great fun and it’s easy to encourage readers to go see it. Just keep in mind – for the sake of transparency – that Elvis, though he made them famous – didn’t actually write any of these songs. In most cases they were written for him or his movies by other people. He once said, “I’ve never even had an idea for a song. Just once, maybe. I went to bed one night, had quite a dream, and woke up all shook up. I phoned a pal and told him about it. By morning, he had a new song.”
A WOW factor of 9!!