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Wednesday, June 22, 2016
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 show.
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 well.