By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Finally. A jukebox musical with an actual jukebox. And it’s busted.
Which should tell you something about the sassy, light-hearted self-awareness of All Shook Up, currently at the Mayfield cavorting its way through the Elvis canon (with winks and nudges at all manner of musicals and even the odd Shakespeare comedy).
The songs, including an ample contingent, less familiar, from those preposterous Elvis movies, are there for the plundering and re-purposing by musical theatre smarty-pants types. But it’ll take the arrival, by motorcycle natch, of an itinerant hunk à la Brando (but with a guitar, an allusively Elvis coiffeur, and shoes of bluest suede) to do a restart on the long-dead jukebox.
Fuelled by comic energy, the production directed by Kate Ryan and choreographed by Cindy Kerr sings and dances its way through the manifold complications of a story concocted by Broadway stalwart Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change). There are bits and pieces of Twelfth Night, As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all shook up with with Hairspray and Footloose and Bye Bye Birdie. Oh, and Grease and….
This is a jukebox musical crammed with allusions. It flirts with parody (which would be awfully tiresome for an entire evening) but, as Ryan’s production smartly judges, doesn’t quite succumb.
It susses out how seriously to take itself (not very); it frames its moments of more heartfelt delivery with genial self-mockery. Would that most productions of Mamma Mia!, the mother of all jukebox musicals, were as playful about the flimsiness of the play in which the songs of ABBA are embedded.
All Shook Up is what you get when you re-boot the lugubriously smoulder-y songs of Elvis as high-spirited musical theatre — you know, triple-threats and inventive production numbers that are full of references. And Ryan’s production, with Kerr’s genuinely funny choreography to set it in motion, enjoys the disconnect.
Back to Chad, the wandering smoulderer, who gets an excellent comic performance (not an Elvis impersonation) from Robbie Towns. His mere proximity is magical to the lonely people in a town of “broken down jukes and disappointed women,” as he sums up his initial impression. The townsfolk will start pairing off at a great rate quite soon after his arrival.
In a nod to the dance-free municipality in Footloose, the Mayoress (Kendra Connor in full Edith Prickley regalia) of this ‘50s anyplace is an enforcer of the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act. And everyone’s on the all-inclusive plan at the Heartbreak Hotel, so to speak. Chad, a prophet of the libido, is aghast. “No public necking? What’s the point of living?”
Anyhow, Chad’s motorcycle is making an ominous “jiggly wiggly sound.” That’s how the Roustabout, as everyone calls him, meets Natalie (Melanie Piatocha), the fetching grease-monkey who’s “good with a wrench” and works at the garage owned by her widowed dad (Paul Morgan Donald). She falls big-time for Chad, breaking the heart of the wistful tongue-tied nerd Dennis (Jason Hardwick) who’s been in love with her forever. And Chad falls for the icy aristocrat (Melissa MacPherson) who runs the local museum who falls in love with ….
But, hey, that’s the plot, a chain reaction propelled by the philosophy of One Night (“one night with you is what I’m now praying for”). Its secrets are safe with me, but I can reveal that its complications include a girl dressed up like a boy and a forbidden inter-racial romance.
Piatocha, whose starry musical theatre versatility is on display front and centre in All Shook Up, is a sparkling and spirited lovestruck heroine. Hardwick, a terrific dancer who commands an entire spectrum of wistful gazes and double-takes as the official nebbish, is very funny. And McPherson is a riot as the unassailable museum goddess who gets assailed (by love, of course!) in an unexpected way, courtesy of Twelfth Night.
Adam Charles and Jameela McNeil are charming as the young Romeo and Juliet who, lucky for them, are in a jukebox musical and not that old downer tragedy that ends in tears.
There are lots of good singers in this big 17-member cast, backed up, as usual at the Mayfield, by a first-rate band (this time out under musical director Steve Thomas). And the ensemble numbers including the Jailhouse Rock opener, which give over the sacred Elvis oeuvre to bunches of characters, are especially striking: Kerr’s choreography never stops being witty and amusingly referential.
Leona Brausen’s costumes — and she keeps ‘em coming — are amusing in their own right. T. Erin Gruber’s design, dominated by a kind of winking galaxy of projections, is jokey but romantic, a combo that’s pretty much indispensable to the proceedings here. We are, my friends, talking about a production with its own Tunnel of Love scene and light-up hearts. The effects are playful about their own shamelessness. You can just about hear them whispering affectionately “I know, right?, ridiculous!”
It’s a fun night out.
All Shook Up
Theatre: Mayfield Dinner Theatre
Written by: Joe DiPietro
Directed by: Kate Ryan
Starring: Robbie Towns, Melanie Piatocha, Paul Morgan Donald, Jason Hardwick, Melissa MacPherson, Adam Charles, Jameela McNeil, Kendra Connor, Jenni Burke
Running: through June 10
Tickets: 780-483-4051, mayfieldtheatre.ca