DRAPER — Community theater serves many different purposes, but I think one of the greatest is the uniting of people from various walks of life for about two hours in an evening of fun. All Shook Up by Titus Productions at the Draper Historic Theater was the quintessential piece of community theater, and I loved it.
The premise of the show is actually fairly simple: combine a slew of Elvis songs with the plot from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In the same vein as Across the Universe or Mamma Mia!, this musical takes popular songs from an artist and tries to connect them with a storyline. Our hero is Chad the roustabout, who rides into town on his motorcycle and steals all the ladies’ hearts. However, this town is like the tiny town from Footloose in the sense that Mayor Matilda has outlawed any sort of public fun. Well, at least the type of fun that Chad enjoys. Because of Chad’s influence, the townsfolk all become twitterpated with one another and there ensues the typical Shakespearean plot of he likes her but she likes him but he likes her who in turn likes he. Throw in a girl dressing like a boy and some tongue-in-cheek humor and you have All Shook Up.
It seems that in order for a production of All Shook Up to be successful it needs to have a good handle on the ridiculous nature of the events that happen and the unique humor of the show. It’s almost a satire in a way. Whether they meant to or not, Titus Productions has handled this well. Director Jake Andersen summed it up in his program note, “Could anything be cheesier? Probably not, but this show makes it work.” And that’s a great way to approach this project. There was no pretence about creating an impenetrable illusion for the audience to be sucked into. Some of the props were made out of spray-painted cardboard cut-outs, occasionally the actors directly referenced the audience, and overall it felt like I was watching a group of my friends (though I didn’t know a single one of them) do a little skit in a house somewhere. The audience was subconsciously invited to be a part of this zany world that was unfolding before them.
The actors handled this energy and the humor of the show very well. One of the best performances of the night came from Brett Anderson as Chad. He was great not only for his handling of the Elvis-type character, but also for the energy that he brought to the stage; you could see that he was giving his all and that energy was infectious for the other actors. That type of performer is a director’s dream.
There were a number of notable performances and kudos should be given to the whole cast for the way they were able to work as an ensemble. This cast was made up of a variety of ages and experience levels, and we could see some of the older and more experienced actors help out some of the younger ones. It was great to see. But as always there were some stand-out performers. Amanda Wright, who played across from Chad as Natalie, had a wonderful voice and was absolutely delightful as a boy (which is meant entirely as a compliment). Noah Martinez, who played the nerdy sidekick Dennis, was perfectly adorable. Devin Johnson, who played the young lover Lorraine, handled the comedic timing and the romance of her character very well and her counterpart, Garrett Brand, was a great choice to play across from her.
All of the actors put in a great amount of energy in the performance, but I would also like to make special note of the cast’s youngest members. Some of the actors were as young as 3rd or 4th grade and were able to command the stage just as well as the more senior members of the troupe. I thought I was going to die laughing when Nate Anderson, a 4th grader, came out playing the crotchety old bus driver. The commitment and focus that these kids had in their roles was amazing. The power that came out of the cast during the choral numbers was also impressive especially considering the number of younger actors.
Now, I have praised this performance quite a bit, and rightly so, but this does not mean the show was without fault. This is not a Broadway level production by any means; it is community theatre in its purest form. There was little to no budget, the dancing was frequently off, and some of the scene changes and costume quick changes dragged on. But overall, I didn’t care. I did want Natalie to be a little more of a grease-monkey in the beginning, and her final costume was out of place (too modern), but these didn’t prevent her from giving a great performance.
So, if you haven’t gathered by now, I recommend this show. It was fun. It was enjoyable to watch the contagious joy that the actors had being a part of the cast and having an experience that they’ll never forget. Sure other theaters might technically do it “better,” but this was a great way to spend a Friday night. Go get that Burning Love.
One final note: This show is double-cast in many of the roles. However, many of the off-night actors were in the chorus or playing minor roles, and if they bring the same energy to the principal role that they did to the minor role, I have no doubt that it is still a wonderful show.