Ask me to name my favorite musicals of the past decade and All Shook Up (the “Elvis Musical”) is sure to make the Top Ten. With its hit-filled score made up of over two dozen Elvis hits, a clever, funny book by Joe DiPietro, a cast of delicious characters that make this one of the best triple-threat ensemble shows around, and opportunities aplenty for a choreographer to strut his or her stuff, All Shook Up is a non-stop crowd-pleasing delight.  Having seen it on Broadway, in its National Tour, and at Musical Theatre West (twice), I can state without reservations that 3-D Theatricals’ production is as exciting as it gets.  


DiPietro’s book borrows inventively from Shakespeare, yet centers itself around a character Elvis himself might have played in one of his 1960s movies. Chad (the Elvis role) is even referred to more than once as a Roustabout, the title of an Elvis flick in case you didn’t know.

Leather-jacketed Chad arrives on his motorcycle one day in “a small, you- never-heard-of-it town somewhere in the Midwest” in 1955, and the dull, go-nowhere lives of its citizens are never the same again. Tomboy Natalie falls head-over-heels for Chad and decides to disguise herself as a guy named “Ed”, the better to get closer to him (Chad not seeming to realize that Natalie is alive). This sets off a chain of unrequited loves that Shakespeare would have been proud to create.  Chad falls for the new woman in town, the sexy/brainy museum proprietress Miss Sandra, as does Natalie’s father Jim, who is loved from afar by Sylvia. Miss Sandra only has eyes for “Ed.”  Meanwhile, geeky Dennis pines after Natalie, who started the whole thing when she got it into her head to dress in male drag.  Only Dean and Lorraine have the good fortune of falling in love with each other, but Lorraine (Sylvia’s daughter) is “colored” and theirs is a forbidden love, especially since Dean’s prude of a mother is the bossy mayor, who along with her closed-mouth sidekick Sheriff Earl, patrols the town enforcing the “Mamie Eisenhower Public Decency Act” (no singing, no dancing, no touching, no kissing, and certainly no interracial love). Gay love would also be forbidden if anybody in the town knew that such a thing existed, a conundrum for the previously 100% heterosexual Chad when he finds himself attracted to “Ed.” Got that?

All Shook Up opens with “Jailhouse Rock” (moved up from Act 2 for the National Tour in a savvy decision to start the show with a bang), our hero Chad swiveling his hips with backup provided by acrobatic jail-uniformed fellow inmates and a bevy of black-and-white striped mini-dress wearing prisonerettes. Chad has spent the night in jail, you see, for exciting the town’s women. “And we don’t like our women excited,” the guard informs him upon his release.


The scene then switches to Sylvia’s honky-tonk, where its drab denizens living drab lives sing about “Heartbreak Hotel,” located as you may recall somewhere “down on a street called Loneliness.”  Chad’s unexpected arrival causes women to faint in his presence and soon the citizens aren’t looking (or feeling) so drab anymore.  When Mayor Matilda catches them (gasp!) dancing, she exclaims in horror, “Well, it looks like there’s been a whole lot of shaking going on!” And there has been indeed.

Grease-monkey Natalie, whose philosophy heretofore has been “Why wear a dress when you can use it to clean an engine,” now dons feminine garb to pull Chad’s attention away from Miss Sandra, but to no avail. Chad only has eyes for Miss S., telling her with a seductive growl, “Everything you say makes me sweat.”  When Natalie transforms herself into “Ed” in order to become the Roustabout’s sidekick, Miss Sandra finds that there is indeed a reason (named “Ed”) to stick around town.  Who said the course of love ever ran smooth?

DiPietro’s book is chock-packed with laughs, some straight out of the Elvis songbook, as when Chad tells Dennis, “What I’m searching for is the highest form of love—Burning Love!”  Other lines are just plain laugh-out-loud funny. Miss Sandra tells “Ed”, “Quote Shakespeare and you can peel me like a banana.” When Mayor Matilda tells Chad to leave town, or else, he replies, “A man doesn’t leave when he’s threatened.  He hides.”  There’s also this bit of wisdom: “Like my daddy used to say, ‘In the right light with the right liquor, anyone could fall for anyone.’”  Remember that the next time you feel desperate for love.


DiPietro also deserves credit for having created a clever and cohesive book around a bunch of preexisting songs, and making them fit his plot as well as his plot fits them.  Chad tells Natalie, who dreams of getting on her motorbike and seeing the world, to “Follow That Dream.”  When Lorraine reveals to Dean that she’s never been kissed, he tells her in a song that “It’s Now Or Never.”  When “Ed” gets tired of all talk, no action from Chad, “he” beltss out “A Little Less Conversation.” And when Mayor Matilda tries to alert her fellow citizens to the danger Chad poses to their white bread community, she warns them musically that he’s the “Devil In Disguise.”

Even diehard All Shook Up fans like this reviewer will perk up at the many original directorial touches T.J. Dawson has inserted, to make this production fresher and funnier than ever. Dana Solimando’s choreography is equally fresh and inventive, with delectable surprises like Dean’s out-of-the-blue pirouette upon meeting Lorraine. The high-energy dancing she gets out of her stupendous ensemble is a tribute to her talents and to those of her Broadway-aiming performers.

3-D Theatricals’ has scored a major coup in getting Joe Mandragona to recreate the role of Chad, which he originated in the show’s First National Tour.  Mandragona was easily the best thing in the tour, and here he gets a production that matches his talents, which are a mix of boyish good looks, Elvis-inspired hip swivels, cocky, sexy energy, and terrific musical theater chops.

Cassandra Murphy wins hearts in an instant as Natalie, whether clad in overalls, a grease-stained dress, or male drag as “Ed,” and what pipes she’s got!  Kelli Provart is simply sensational as Miss Sandra, displaying great comic timing, powerful belt of a voice, and Jayne Mansfield curves.  Morgan Reynolds takes on nerd extraordinaire Dennis and reinvents the part in stellarly quirky fashion. (And can this boy sing and dance!) Amber Thompson and Bobby Perino make for a charming and delightful Lorraine and Dean.

The older roles have been cast at least ten years younger than the characters they’re playing, but fear not. This is, after all, a show about suspending disbelief. Amber Snead is a warm and wonderful Sylvia, and her silken vocal chords make “There’s Always Me” a showstopper. Jamie Snyder does fine work as Jim, and is never funnier than when attempting to remake himself as the middle-aged version of Chad. Tip-top comedienne Viva Weber has a ball playing the decency-defending Mayor Matilda, and when her character finally loosens up, it’s Viva Voom at the OC Pavilion. Pitting pint-sized Joey M. Ryan as Sheriff Earl opposite statuesque Weber was a brilliant bit of casting, and Ryan gets every laugh out of Earl’s eleventh hour personality change.

There’s not a weak link in the young, multitalented ensemble, who perfected their dance steps and the show’s tricky harmonies in a matter of two or three weeks. They are Jenn Aedo, Susan Cannone, Garrett Deagon, Andreas de Rond, Katie DeShan, Sean Garner, Melinda Koen, Kat Liz Kramer, Courtnay Krieger, Robert Laos, Chloe Leatherwood, Patrick Loyd, Dance Captain/Associate Choreographer Paul Romero Jr., Arthur L. Ross, Kalen Sakima, Hannah Simmons, Jenna Wright, and Luke Yellen. 

Sharell Martin has coordinated the show’s great 1950s costumes.  Lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier and sound design by Julie Ferrin show off the design duo’s accustomed excellence. The sets and costumes (provided by Musical Theatre West) represent the Broadway design talents of David Rockwell and David C. Woolard. (Rockwell’s touring sets were somewhat dwarfed by the Carpenter Center’s enormous stage. Here, they are a perfect fit for the OC Pavilion.)

Musical director Allen Everman deserves highest marks for conducting the Elvis-ready live orchestra, and getting some absolutely gorgeous singing from the show’s ensemble, who nail the complex vocal arrangements of Broadway whiz kid Stephen Oremus.  Oremus has created some of the most glorious harmonies you will ever hear on a musical theater stage, making each Elvis hit sound brand new. The final minute of the Act 1 closer, “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” is quite possibly the most sublimely beautiful sixty seconds of song I have ever heard. It’s no wonder the lights go down on Act 1 to cheers usually heard at the final curtain.

If December’s Peter Pan provided a great preview of 3-Productions’ exciting first season, then All Shook Up is an even more exciting season opener.  With Altar Boyz up next, then a TBA show about whiz-kid spellers, the classic Hello, Dolly, and the recent Broadway hit Curtains (and all in the next six months), the OC Pavilion is the place to be in 2010 for the best in professional musical theater. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wanting to see All Shook Up more than once. There is quite definitely a whole lot of show-stopping shaking going on!

3-D Theatricals, OC Pavilion, 801 N Main Street Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
February 5, 2010
                                                                             Photos: Alysa Brennan

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