There’s a whole lotta shaking going in “All Shook Up,” a diverting road show based on the short-lived Rialto production, now settling into its national tour after launching in Milwaukee in mid-September. But it’s not just the remixed Elvis Presley songbook that’s key to this formulaic blend, nor the romantic stirrings the show’s Elvis-like protag unleashes nor even the undulating libidos of nearly everyone in the fun-deprived ’50s anytown where the story is set. It’s the scrambled script, which borrows generously from camp to crap to classics: Isn’t that from “Footloose”? “Hairspray”? “Twelfth Night” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? Or any one of those Elvis movies?
Obviously, Joe DiPietro is not chasing anything original here, but his appropriations make the entertainment attractive enough for auds looking for the safe, the familiar and the nostalgic. (Has the 1950s become the new 1920s in period musicals? What’s next, “No, No, Annette”?)
Solid production values, appealing cast with one semi-name (Susan Anton) and energetic singing and dancing should make road prospects promising for this PG-rated family fare if it’s marketed well.
There have been some changes made for the road since the six-month Broadway run, with some songs repositioned, a few bits added and the talented Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys”), brought in prior to New York for some dance-doctoring, now receiving sole choreography credit.
Call it the curse of “Mamma Mia!,” the legit pop phenom that made the jukebox musical look so easy to package. Unlike with that Abba-fest, the main problem with “All Shook Up” (other than its recycled feel) is that the characters aren’t played for real. As written, staged and performed, they are not humans but archetypes: easily identifiable, hokey and jokey in DiPietro’s gag-laden book. While they’re often amusing to watch, there’s little for auds to connect with emotionally in this confection. The production is easily forgotten about halfway up the exit aisle.
Like a slew of other catalog shows, the pop songs often are shoe-horned into a theatrical narrative. While some musical numbers are deft and right, others are a bit of a stretch, pointing to the effort rather than the result.
Among the better numbers are act-one closer “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the title song, “It Hurts Me,” “There’s Always Me,” “If I Can Dream,” “Fools Fall in Love” and the finale, “Burning Love.”
Helmer Christopher Ashley gives the fast-paced show a light-hearted comic sensibility, allowing for some vivid musical perfs. Jenny Fellner is bright and charming as the grease-monkey heroine who disguises herself as a guy to be closer to Chad, the leather-clad stranger who cycles through town and inspires everyone through his Elvis-style persona to find their bliss.
Other standouts include Natasha Yvette Williams as local hangout owner Sylvia. Williams has great comic delivery and a voice that starts in the heart and soars to the rafters. Also engaging, with heavenly pipes of his own, is Dennis Moench as the nerdy kid in love with Fellner’s Natalie.
As the charismatic Chad, Joe Mandragona is attractive, sings OK and moves better than most, but he lacks the charisma to transform a town, much less make anyone swoon at first or second sight.
As the head of the local museum (don’t ask), a leggy, stiff and clueless Susan Anton goes for height rather than depth.
David Rockwell’s settings are colorful and breezy (especially the snazzy pink chapel at show’s multiple-wedding finale). Costumes by David C. Woolard also have wit and style, while Donald Holder keeps things aglow, even at night. Arranger Stephen Oremus makes Elvis’ songs play in new theatrical ways.