"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






All Shook Up' an efficient tale full of Elvis

Production an amiable, brainless love story with surprising appeal

By Michael Phillips Tribune theater critic

The Beach Boys were so right. Wouldn't it be nice? Wouldn't it be nice to peer a decade or two into the future and assess, in total, all 900,000 shows in the ever-growing, ever-retro genre of the songbook musical?

Look at this year alone. Thanks to the success of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" (Leiber and Stoller), "Movin' Out" (Billy Joel) and especially "Mamma Mia!" (ABBA), we have a Beach Boys tuner, "Good Vibrations," currently emanating the wrong sort of vibrational buzz from the neighborhood of Broadway. "Lennon," due in New York this summer, will in one way or another do John Lennon.

In the pipeline, more promisingly, there's a Four Seasons bio-musical ("Jersey Boys") from the La Jolla Playhouse. There has been talk of a show built upon the catalog of the band Chicago and, from Twyla Tharp, a Bob Dylan ballet. Practically all that remains is a show based on the rock band Boston. Or Kansas.

Without a crystal ball, it's impossible to say where the amiably brainless Elvis Presley-sprung musical "All Shook Up" will fall in the early 21st Century scheme of things. Who knows? The show, which started previewing in late 2004 back when we were young and innocent, finally opened its pre-Broadway run Thursday at the Cadillac Palace. It may well end up being one of the better songbook musicals, which may not say much, but . . . well, it may not say much.

Square little town A tick over two hours in length, "All Shook Up" takes place, as we're informed by a projection, "once upon a time . . . in a square little town, in the middle of a square state . . . in the middle of a square decade."

This is sexually repressed William Inge territory, a few counties over from "Picnic." The town is ruled by a highly starched mayor (Alix Korey) who eagerly enforces the "Mamie EisenhowerDecency Act," meaning "no public necking, no boogie-woogie."

Grooving to a new beat Sweet young Natalie (Jenn Gambatese), the local grease monkey, pines for the highway, while her father (Jonathan Hadary), a widower, spends time at the local tavern. Dentist-in-training Dennis (Jim Price) is crazy for Natalie, but he cannot muster the courage to tell her. Quicker `n you can say "Footloose," a magical hunk with a helluva pelvis arrives in the form of Chad (Cheyenne Jackson). Quicker `n you can say "Bye Bye Birdie," the town is moving and, in fact, grooving to a whole new beat, courtesy of the Elvis Presley estate.

"You must resist the temptation of lowbrow culture!" warns the mayor, who obviously never backed a jukebox musical. Chad falls for Miss Sandra (Leah Hocking), the proprietress of the local museum located in a trailer. Natalie's heart goes thumpa-thumpa for Chad, so she disguises herself as a cycle-ridin' man in order to get in good with her heart's desire. If that last plot wrinkle sounds like Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," you're thinking exactly as librettist Joe DiPietro is thinking. DiPietro is best known for "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," and those who enjoyed that show probably will enjoy this one.

"All Shook Up" is crowded with Shakespearean references to sonnets and Romeo and Juliet and forbidden love, but there's enough "Twelfth Night" in it to put it on a list including "Your Own Thing" and "Play On!," two official "Twelfth Night" musical adaptations.

Any time anyone spies their true love in "All Shook Up," the character sings a few bars of "One Night With You" while the action freezes. It is a musical running gag typical of the genre, and the show.

Many of the Elvis hits are here, in a breathless 26-song roster: "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Teddy Bear," "Don't Be Cruel," "Jailhouse Rock." DiPietro's book scenes juggle a lot of romantic subplots, including an interracial romance between the mayor's son (Curtis Holbrook), who puts the "white boy" in "white boy," and the defiant African-American daughter (Nikki M. James) of the local barkeep (Sharon Wilkins). Doesn't ring true.

Here is where DiPietro and director Christopher Ashley haven't done the right groundwork. I know it's a fairy tale, but this is pre-Civil Rights era 1955. Right away -- in a stunningly well-integrated saloon of white and black patrons -- you're unable to fully buy the world of "All Shook Up." Act 2, set in an abandoned fairground standing in for a Shakespearean forest, is a fair bit better and wittier bookwise, with Chad unable to resolve his feelings for his new sidekick, "Ed" -- Natalie in drag.

The leads are more likable than memorable, which is generally true of the show itself. In the supporting ranks Price's uber-nerd Dennis (excellent knee-knocking dance moves), in particular, does wonders with DiPietro's patronizing hick-town gags. When Price and a jittery, surprisingly unrelaxed Hadary share a scene, you may be seeing the least rural, least authentic heartland portrayals imaginable, even within the realm of musical comedy.

"All Shook Up" is not authentic in any way, shape or form. It is an efficiently paced fraud, yet a fraud with more audience appeal than many might expect. Scenic designer David Rockwell does artfully and well with his fetching two- and three-dimensional modes of transportation -- characters come and go on cycles, a Greyhound bus, a bicycle -- although his fairground setting lacks visual appeal. Not that anybody on stage notices the scenery.

There's little breathing room or downtime in "All Shook Up," which makes it harder to connect with the romances. The pacing makes "Mamma Mia!" look like "Show Boat." Even those who have a hunka hunka time of it may find themselves more stirred than shaken, let alone actually all shaken up. But as nostalgia-mongering projects go, you could do worse. I certainly have. I saw a "Mad Max"-style Doors musical called "Celebration of the Lizard" once.

"All Shook Up" runs through Jan. 23 at Cadillac Palace Theatre.

(News/Review, ChicagoTribune.com)









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Elvis Odd Spot (updated 13 Jan 2005)