KAYSVILLE — Sometimes I just want to go see a show that is fun, cheerful, and filled with familiar tunes that I can sing along to and not have to analyze too much. All Shook Up at the Hopebox Theatre is a great example of an upbeat, lighthearted romp written by Joe Dipietro that goes through a large catalog of Elvis Presley songs both iconic and lesser known. The story roughly parallels that of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, ticking all the boxes of a Shakespearean comedy: unrequited love times three, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, prejudice, hidden secrets in the past, and happy endings for everyone.
Dylan Brinkman leads this cast as Chad, an Elvis Presley-type ‘roustabout’ who rides into town on a motorcycle and proceeds to turn everyone and everything upside down with his songs of love and hip-swiveling dance moves. The extremely conservative Mayor Matilda (played by April Beardall) immediately singles Chad out as a bad influence in her strait-laced town and sets about to drive him out. But before Matilda can save her precious, innocent, depressing town, Chad’s personality has infected almost everyone, especially the young people. In particular, Natalie (played by Brittany Paskett) is affected by his magnetic pull. Natalie is discontented with her quiet life, and she longs for adventure. An only child, raised by her widowed father, Natalie is the best motorcycle mechanic in the area, and when Chad drives into her garage looking for someone to repair his bike, she thinks she’s found her ticket out of town. The only problem is that Chad likes his ladies to be ladylike, not covered in grease. Natalie’s solution to get his attention is to become Chad’s ‘sidekick’ and help him woo Miss Sandra (Abigail Philpott), the object of his desire, the museum docent who in turn seeks a man who can quote poetry to her. Add into this mix Dennis (Josh Rogers), Natalie’s best friend who is secretly harboring a crush on her, and the mayor’s own son Dean (Ethan Hoffman), whose mother thinks is on his way to military school but who really sneaked off the bus to stay with Lorraine (Sophia Morrill), the daughter of a diner owner from the wrong side of the tracks, and things start to get very complicated very quickly. This comedy is indeed a tale worthy of the Bard himself.
Some standout performances in this production include Morrill as Lorraine, the forbidden love-interest of the mayor’s son Dean. Morrill sparkles in every scene. Morrill’s comedic timing is perfect, her best-friend sympathy for Natalie is genuine and believable, and her character’s instant love for Dean is adorable. Her vocals are stellar and her stage presence is magnetic. What a find for this production! Morrill was by far my favorite character in the show. Brinkman is a convincing, swaggering, good-looking, arrogant Chad, who has perfected his Elvis snarl and southern drawl. Brinkman commands the stage from the get-go. It is not hard to believe that every teenage girl in town starts to follow him around. Chad brings his own ‘magic’ to the town, reviving the old broken down jukebox and reminding everyone of what it feels like to be in love again. Paskett is delightful as Natalie, and even more so as Ed, Natalie’s male alter-ego who tries to get close to Chad in a roundabout way. Paskett is funny and sweet and her facial expressions are comedic gold. Natalie’s friend-zoning of the devoted Dennis is understandable but also tender, as poor Dennis just wants to be near her and makes some tremendous sacrifices himself because of his feelings for her. Other performances worth a shout out would be Windy Martin as Henrietta, who belts out her step out song with gusto and style. Darin Beardall as Natalie’s befuddled father Jim and Crystl Naylor as his long-suffering ‘friend’ Sylvia are also delightful.
The direction by Todd Wente was light and frothy. This performance did not delve too deeply into the racial issues that are sometimes brought forth in this show, mostly because the cast is not racially very diverse. Wente focused instead on the influence and distrust of an outsider, and he glossed over the inter-racial relationship problems. He and the cast worked hard to mine the comedic moments in the script with good results.
Choreography by Liz Christensen was fun and spirited. The opening number, “Jailhouse Rock,” and later, “C’mon Everybody,” were energetic, making me want to get up and dance with the cast. However, I did not love my seat on the front row, because I couldn’t get a good view of the entire stage. Occasionally the actors would sit on the edge of the stage, literally at the audience’s feet, which felt awkward.
The set design was the weakest aspect of this production. The HopeBox stage is unique in shape, with very little wing space, and a cross between a thrust and a slight proscenium stage. The designer chose to use a three-sided periaktos that turned to show various locations in town, which on the face of it was a clever idea, often used in Ancient Greek Theatre, but because there was only one column, the set looked unfinished. A set of three or more periaktoi would have given more substance and weight to the different locations and would feel less of an afterthought. When Act 2 moved to the carnival grounds, the back curtains were opened to reveal a painted, DayGlo background, and a puppet theater was brought on stage for one musical number and then removed, which seemed ill planned.
Costume design by Kathy Richmond was cute with many poodle-style skirts and rolled up jeans for the teens and period suits and dresses for the adults. The gradual changeover from regular footwear to bright blue ‘suede’ shoes was appealing, but not overdone. Vocal direction by Kirsten Jacobsen was well done. Vocals were strong, balanced and effective. “TeddyBear/ Hound Dog” was especially pleasing with four part harmonies and counterpoint melodies. The song list in the program was incomplete and somewhat out of order, which was confusing.
Overall this production is delightful and fun, one with a strong story accompanied by favorite songs of an American icon of rock and roll. What’s not to like, when there is so much to celebrate? Bring the kids to see this family-friendly show, and introduce them to great music and fun dancing. You can even discuss a little Shakespeare along the way.