Friday, May 11, 2007
All Shook Up (The SOB Review) - Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
*1/2 (out of ****)
Back in 2005, what was intended to be the "King" of all jukebox musicals opened on Broadway to less than regal reviews. Inevitably mining the pop music catalogue of Elvis Presley, the Christopher Ashley-helmed All Shook Up was one show I deliberately avoided like a bad Billy Ray Cyrus song.
So I'm not quite sure what I was thinking when I decided to take in the touring production of the show. Like Legally Blonde, the production begins with a bang -- in All Shook Up, it's thanks to an electrifying "Jail House Rock." From there, it doesn't just coast, it goes strictly downhill largely because of an incredibly insipid-meets-corny book by Joe DiPietro that lacks virtually any real wit.
The production relies almost entirely on the cocky sensuality of its charming lead Joe Mandragona (as roustabout Chad) -- who's jostling with sexy self-regard as he gyrates his hips -- and the turbo-charged choreography by Sergio Trujillo to power it along. Unfortunately, whenever the incredibly talented Mandragona is off the stage, All Shook Up's tank teeters on empty.
The convoluted plot revolves around Chad after he motors into a nameless Midwestern small town during the fifties. No surprise, there's a general enforcement of boredom there (read: no dancing or modern music) by the town's Mayor Matilda Hyde (Beth Glover). Yet, over the course of 24 hours, Chad succeeds in infusing the community with a little excitement followed by a rash of unrequited love among its locals.
The line of lusts lost starts with town geek Dennis (played like a mensch by Dennis Moench) who's forlorn over grease-monkey townie Natalie Haller (Jenny Fellner), who in turn falls for Chad and the idea that she'll be able to see the world from the back of his motorcycle. But Chad doesn't even give her a second look, especially after eyeing the elusive, statuesque Miss Sandra (Susan Anton), who's also the object of affection by Natalie's widowed father Jim (Wally Dunn). Are you following?
Incidentally, Sylvia (Jannie Jones) a requisitely sassy black proprietor of the town bar discovers she's got a thing for Jim, but only after putting her foot down when her own daughter Lorraine (Tracee Beazer) finds true love with the mayor's white son, Dean (Brian Sears).
Thinking her romeo will come to appreciate her if only he gets to know her as a guy (huh?), Natalie decides to hone-in on Dennis' inexplicable sidekick status to Chad by posing as Ed, only to find herself/himself being pursued by Miss Sandra. As Ed, Natalie attempts to get Chad to consider her virtues; but Chad advises Ed to go after Natalie instead. But after an episode where Chad is left to ponder a love that dare not speak its name, hilarity is intended to ensue and just as soon as you can say "wedding," suddenly three pairs of brides and grooms are lined up at the altar.
Give the cast credit for making the most of this ridiculous production. I'll also concede that it was clearly an audience favorite, even in its lame attempts to provide positive messaging around interracial dating (although if you're looking for a more substantive show dealing with race relations from a couple generations ago, I'd recommend seeing Hairspray).
But by packing such a twisted story into its two-and-a-half hours, All Shook Up ultimately explodes like a shaken can of soda. It may appear to be forceful, yet when you look inside the can, there's not much left. I couldn't help but wonder, "What would Elvis have thought?"
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for tickets.