A little less plot, a little more harmless fun
'All Shook Up' is a colorful, cheeky take on Elvis classics
I'm always skeptical of so-called "jukebox" theater: productions such as "Mamma Mia!" that are based on a selection of pop songs from the past, with plots shoehorned in between musical numbers. Sure, it's always fun to hear classic songs performed in a new context, but give me original content any day.
"All Shook Up," the latest production by Foothill Music Theatre, takes its music from the catalog of the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, with some gender-bending elements inspired by the King of English Literature, William Shakespeare. What the show lacks in originality it makes up for — to some extent — in good-natured spirit.
The flimsy plot (book by Joe DiPietro) takes its cues from common depictions of America in the 1950s. As was apparently always the case, a small conservative town is full of repressed sexuality and a bad case of the blahs. The square inhabitants are clearly in need of a leather-clad rebel to teach them about rock and roll, following their dreams, letting loose, etc.
In "All Shook Up," said rebel is Chad (Tony DiCorti), a suave "guitar-playing roustabout," as he is frequently referred to by the tongue-in-cheek script. When Chad rolls into town on his badass motorcycle and fixes the town's busted jukebox, the ladies swoon (fainting, a la "Bye Bye Birdie) for his hip-swiveling moves.
Especially entranced is Natalie (Katherine Goldman), the tomboyish town mechanic. But Chad has eyes only for the sophisticated Miss Sandra (Amanda Andrews), who runs the local art museum. Meanwhile, nerdy Dennis (Anthony Chan) pines for Natalie, while sassy, wisecracking Sylvia (Juanita Harris) nurses a crush on Natalie's widowed dad (Todd Wright), who also has a thing for Miss Sandra. And don't forget Sylvia's daughter Lorraine (the vivacious Leslie Ivy), who conducts a sweet, forbidden, interracial affair with Dean (Warren Wernick), the shy son of the uptight, autocratic mayor (Molly Thornton).
With a storyline (very) loosely inspired by The Bard's "Twelfth Night," Natalie disguises herself as a male — with the addition of a cap and jacket she magically becomes unrecognizable — called "Ed." Her implausible idea is that if Ed can become best buddies with Chad, he'll somehow realize she/he is the guy/girl of his dreams.
Chad and Ed do indeed hit it off but, complicating things further, Miss Sandra too develops feelings for Natalie-in-Ed-drag. I'll refrain from being a spoiler so you'll have to guess for yourselves if and how the romantic entanglements work themselves out in the end.
Act I of "All Shook Up" is fairly ho-hum stuff, with Elvis songs awkwardly wedged in all over the place, but I'll admit that in the second act, as the Shakespearian/screwball silliness and interesting homoerotic twists ramp up, the show drew me in further with its slight, goofy charms. And though it's full of '50s cliches, it's also full of cheeky self-awareness, playing off its more predictable elements to work in some surprises (such as who ultimately gets shook up and who turns out to do the shaking).
DiCorti makes for an affable Elvis-esque lothario, although the older folks — gorgeous-voiced Harris and the ever-loveable Wright — gained the most hoots and hollers (and rightfully so).
The five-piece band (hidden off to the side in Foothill's Lohman Theatre) does a good job with the Presley material, though the choreography is a bit too corny even by this show's standards. The set is amateurish but cute, with some technical difficulties the night I attended the show, and the costumes are pleasingly colorful.
"All Shook Up"'s target demographic has been much better served by other shows — "Grease," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Hairspray!", "Back to the Future" or heck, an actual Elvis movie, for that matter — to name but a few. But for those who crave live, local entertainment, the production delivers a dose of harmless fun and toe-tapping mid-century nostalgia.
What: "All Shook Up," an Elvis musical presented by Foothill Music Theatre
Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills
When: Through March 11, with shows Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $20-$28.
Info: Go to foothillmusicals.com or call 650-949-7360.