I had a theater professor in
college who used to say that in the comedies of Shakespeare love is a sickness
that can only be cured by marriage. I’m glad to say that in “All Shook Up,”
currently playing at Amish Acres, no one's sick anymore! Everyone checked out
of Heartbreak Hotel without any lasting damage, put on their Blue Suede Shoes
because they Can’t Help Falling In Love. After all, It’s Now Or Never when it
comes to that Burning Love.
“All Shook Up” is based (loosely)
on Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” but more importantly Joe Dipietro’s
script is “Inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presely.” Songs like
“Jailhouse Rock,” “C’Mon Everybody,” “Hound Dog,” “It’s Now or Never,” Love Me
Tender,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” among many, many others, are inspired
toe tapping and hand clapping among audience members the night I attended the
Unlike many other so-called
Jukebox Musicals, this one has a real plot! The arrival of a mysterious
stranger (ably played by Carl Glenn) turns a place filled with variously
grieving, scheming, and judgmental characters topsy-turvy. The hilarious gender
confusion that unintentionally ensues when lonely hearts auto mechanic Natalie
Haller (wonderfully portrayed by Abby Murray Vachon) dresses as a man to get
closer to the man she loves while drawing the amorous attention of a
strong-willed woman (Kayla Ricker) is at the heart of Twelfth Night and it
works well in 1950’s America.
We see that era through
rose-colored glasses, anyway. The Age of Elvis wasn’t nearly that cool. But
“All Shook Up" re-imagines the 50’s as non-racist and non-sexist, and
that’s what the literature of Utopia does best -- reimagine an ideal past
because we believe in a better future. That’s especially important now when we
seem to be living in a dystopia of hatred and violence.
The music of “All Shook Up” is a
largely positive mix that helps us believe things will get better, that there
may come a time when we won’t care about race, or age, or anything else that
might separate us anymore. And while we’re at it, we get to listen to a cast
filled with talented singers (kudos to Music Director Julie Lyn Barber) dancing
(hooray for director/choreographer Mike Fielder) across a near-perfect set
designed by Richard Pletcher.
Jordon Tudor is imperious as the
Mayor and is as close as we get to Twelfth Night's Malvolio, but unlike in
Shakespeare’s play she does not end as the odd one out in this comedy where it's
perfectly normal to fall head over heels in love at a moment’s notice. But
after, wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote “Whoever loved, that loved not at first
sight?” Oh wait, that was Shakespeare was quoting Christopher Marlowe.
Jazze Lewis as Sylvia (now
there’s a Shakespearean name) and Alec Brown as Dennis were especially delightful
playing characters who reopen their lives to love like a phoenix rising from
the ashes of grief.
Truth be told if you know
anything about the Bard you recognize the confused gender wooing scene from “As
You Like It,” and the confused set of couples from “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But no one is giving you points for catching this or that reference. What does
pay off is that thanks to a strong cast from top to bottom (everyone sings,
everyone dances, everyone acts) this show is fun from beginning to end.
Can I close by saying something
heretical? While Elvis made all these songs famous, most of them are not really
Elvis songs. He only wrote a few of them. What I’m really saying is, what we’re
loving here is not just one singer, but an age. Come to think of it, the Bard’s
contemporary Ben Jonson once wrote jealously that Shakespeare was not of an age
but for all time. So is Elvis. And I suspect this show has lasting power as