OREM — The success of jukebox musicals—a musical that is constructed around the songs of one particular beloved artist or group—hinges on one potential accomplishment: the ability of the much-loved songs to capture the audience in such a way that they no longer care that the story is an implausible mess, sacrificed in order to squeeze in as many top hits as possible. In the case of All Shook Up, the Elvis-inspired musical currently playing at the SCERA Shell, the impressive high energy and dedication of the cast is incapable of making up for a script that fails to produce interesting or energetic enough versions of the King’s music to compensate for a painfully flawed script by Joe Pietro.
Director Jennifer Reed had an unenviable task in trying to make this show a hit. The story of All Shook Up revolves around Natalie (T’Naiha Ellis), a young woman looking for love in her small town where music, “public necking” and any sort of moral indiscretion is against the law. Into this town comes a traveling Roustabout named Chad (Jordan Dickison), an Elvis look alike who has the girls swooning to his hip thrusts and blue suede shoes. Love woes—and many triangles—ensue as everyone falls in love with the wrong person, girls dress up like boys, and the laws of the land threaten to keep true love apart. If you’re wondering if I just described a mix of Bye Bye Birdie, Footloose and Twelfth Night, you’d be right. Though let’s not forget, (spoiler alert!) just to emphasize the script’s complete inability to provide a unique story line, there’s just a little bit of Grease thrown in at the end to tie it all together. With it quickly clear that this mostly incomprehensible, yet oddly predictable, story is just a vehicle to get from Elvis song to Elvis song, the only hope for an entertaining evening lies in the power of these well-known hits to energize and transport the audience. Unfortunately, that hope quickly diminishes as each new song rendition fails to equal the charm and magic of the original.
Luckily there are a few standout performances within the cast that create some bright spots throughout the evening. Jacob Porter charms as the nerdy, unloved and underappreciated Dennis, stealing the show with his genuine and heartfelt performance. I couldn’t help loving him—and rooting for him—throughout the entire night and his flat-out fantastic rendition of “It Hurts Me” was the best part of the night. Ashlyn Hirchak as Lorraine and Samantha Frisby as Sandra also give delightful performances and the underutilized ensemble is to be commended for their whole hearted enthusiasm and total commitment. Unfortunately, while the choreography (by Sunny Watts) made a valiant effort to create high-energy numbers through the ensemble, it wasn’t until the bows encore that they were finally able to get the audience energized and clapping along. Sadly, this feat that was too little too late and only served to emphasize the missed opportunities throughout the evening to engage the audience in the musical numbers that should have been the show’s saving grace. To be fair, the songs were often arranged in a way that sucked the heart and soul out of the song.
Appreciation must also be given to the set (Nat Reed) and costume (Erin Bijorn) designers for their attempts to create a colorful 1950’s world against the unfortunate black vacuum of the SCERA stage. And while the sound mix was patchy throughout the night, it all came together in one glorious moment during the Act One finale of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Although the obvious heart and soul demonstrated by the cast in commendable, it was unfortunately channeled into a script that offered them—and the audience—little in return. While the focus on pure entertainment and nostalgia that is so often the mission of the jukebox musical has a place within the theatre repertoire, the SCERA had a big misfire with their selection of All Shook Up.