A whole lot of shaking’s going on in Laguna Beach this summer as a mix of East-coasters and OC locals join talents to entertain audiences of all ages with All Shook Up, the crowd-pleasingest jukebox musical since Mamma, Mia!
The artist getting jukeboxed at the Laguna Playhouse is none other than Elvis “The King” Presley, whose dozens of smash hits by a long, long list of songwriters add up to a particularly tuneful, eclectic score.
Joe DiPietro’s clever, funny book borrows inventively from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, updated to the year 1955 the better to revolve around a character Elvis himself might have played in one of his ‘50s/‘60s movies. (Its leather-jacketed hero is even referred to more than once as a Roustabout, the title of a 1964 Elvis flick in case you didn’t know.)
2015 Elon University grad Clark Helman stars as Chad, whose sudden arrival in “a small, you-never-heard-of-it town somewhere in the Midwest” guarantees that its residents’ dull, go-nowhere lives will never be the same again.
Tomboy Natalie (Lily Ganser) falls so head-over-heels for the town newbee that she disguises herself as “Ed” to get closer to the hunk of her dreams, thereby setting off a chain of unrequited loves that Shakespeare would have been proud to call his own.
Chad crushes on new-gal-in-town, brainy blonde museum proprietress Miss Sandra (Jill Slyter), as does Natalie’s father Jim (Jonathan D. Mesisca), who himself is loved from afar by saloon owner Sylvia (Dwan Hayes), while Miss Sandra only has eyes for “Ed.”
Meanwhile, geeky Dennis (Christopher Hansel) pines after Natalie, who started the whole thing in motion when she got it into her head to dress in male drag.
Only Dean and Lorraine (Cole Fletcher and Alexa Briana Crismon) luck out in having their love reciprocated, but since Lorraine is African-American Sylvia’s daughter, theirs is a “forbidden” love, hardly the kind to please Dean’s bossy prude of a mom, mayor Matilda (Michelle Bendetti), whose “Mamie Eisenhower Public Decency Act” outlaws singing, dancing, touching, and kissing, with black-&-white love topping the list of no-nos.
Gay love would be forbidden too 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.”
Who said the course of true love ever did run smooth?
From the show-opening “Jailhouse Rock,” featuring an Elvis-pelvised Chad backed by black-and-white striped prisoners and prisonerettes, to a “Heartbreak Hotel” belted out by the “alcohol enthusiasts” who frequent Sylvia’s run-down honky-tonk, to town newbie Chad’s hip-swiveling “Come On Everybody,” two-time Tony winner Di Pietro’s clever, cohesive book fits a bunch of preexisting songs into a multiple-plot storyline every bit as niftily as his plot fits them.
Under Steve Steiner’s brisk direction, a terrific, mostly very young cast deliver one infectiously winning performance after another, beginning with sexy stunner Helman, whose Chad combines cocky charm, fabulous footwork, a to-die-for physique, and vocals to do Elvis proud.
Ganser gives tomboy Natalie a Sandra Bullock a girl-next-door likability sure to win audience hearts. UCI senior Crismon and 2015 OCSA grad Fletcher show plenty of promise as first-lovers Dean and Lorraine.
Bendetti’s Mayor Matilda combines a bit of Guys And Dolls’ Sarah Brown with some Almira Gulch thrown in for mean measure opposite Laguna Beach local Slabodkin’s laconic Sheriff Earl. (If only the duo’s multiple-decade age difference didn’t add awkward undertones not in DiPietro’s book.)
Hayes’s Billie Holiday vocals are just one reason her Sylvia is a winner, another being the sparks she ignites with velvet-piped Mesisca as her partner in second-time-around love. Slyter is a dry-humored, big-voiced platinum treat as Miss Sandra.
Best of all among supporting players is Playhouse returnee Hansell, lighting up the stage as nerd extraordinaire Dennis and earning the evening’s loudest solo performance cheers for a showstopping “It Hurts Me.”
Choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan gives All Shook Up’s uber-talented young ensemble abundant opportunities to show off their song-and-dance gifts in one high-energy production number after another, and she gets back as exciting as she gives from Joseph Ambrosia, Gabrielle Beckford, Dereis Lambert, Stevie Mack, Melissa Mangold, Noah Pattillo, David Sasik, and Siena Yusi.
All Shook Up’s uncredited scenic design, while not particularly inspired, does allow swift transitions from locale to locale, with higher design marks going to Keith Lambert’s nostalgic ‘50s costumes and Alex Crocker-Lakness’s vibrant lighting.
Juan Sanson’s crystal-clear sound design mixes amped vocals and some almost live-sounding prerecorded tracks, musical director Jeffrey Biering and his cast nailing Stephen Oremus’s complex vocal arrangements, the most gorgeous I’ve heard in any Broadway show, at least in the past dozen years.
Gail Anderson is production manager. Mercedes Aponte is production stage manager. All Shook Up is produced by Boebe Productions, LLC.
All Shook Up is that rarity among musicals, one as likely to entertain audience members as young as its late-teen/early-20s cast as it is to delight 70somethings and older. (Hard to believe, but Elvis would have turned 81 this year.) I’m guessing that even The King himself would have one Elvis-sational time!
Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.
July 13, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger