Eugene Weekly : Theater : 7.5.07

Big Cheesy
All Shook Up by songs of the King

Elvis songs! Elvis songs! Elvis songs! That’s really all you need to know about All Shook Up, but since this review isn’t one of The Guardian‘s “Digested Reads,” you might be expecting a bit more info. If you have never heard a song by Elvis (I’m not sure how that would happen, but it’s not as if we live near Graceland), listen to a few first in preparation for a couple of hours of relentless Elvis mania.

Lorraine (Ashley Apelzin) faces off with mom Sylvia (Erica Jean)

Yes, there’s a plot — a plot like the mutant offspring of Bus Stop, Grease, Pleasantville, Picnic and Bye Bye Birdie — with a bit of Grease II in there as well, not to mention a dollop of Twelfth Night and As You LIke It.

Confused? Here’s the plot: Chad, a self-described “roustabout,” gets out of jail in one town (guess which song opens the show) and heads off on his motorcycle for another. When his bike starts making a “jiggly wiggly” sound (cue fainting sounds from the chorus), he stops and asks master mechanic Natalie Haller (Rebecca Teran) to fix it up. Chad wants to jump start the town on his way through — and the town needs lighting up. Everyone seems to be dealing with repression and frustrated desire.

A buttoned-up mayor (Margaret Innocenti) has silenced the entire place with her “Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act” — and she sent her only son (Ben Klute) off to military school, where apparently he learned to be apple-cheek adorable. Home for a few days, the son, Dean, falls for Lorraine (Ashley Apelzin), daughter of local tavern owner Sylvia (Erica Jean). Sylvia’s tart tongue fails to hide her admiration for Natalie’s father Jim (Tony Joyner), but Jim’s about to fall for voluptuous museum curator Miss Sandra (Breanna Carter), who also attracts the attentions of stranger Chad.

Natalie’s best friend Dennis (Nick Forrest) is agonizingly silent about his love for Natalie, who, of course, falls for Chad. When Natalie can’t seem to get Chad’s attention, she transforms herself into Chad’s new buddy and sidekick Ed. Will Ed be successful where Natalie was not? Will Sylvia woo Jim away from Miss Sandra? Can Miss Sandra find someone to fall for who’s not Ed? Could the audience please not respond with reflexive homophobic laughter when Miss Sandra wants to kiss Ed or Ed wants to kiss Chad? The climactic scene at the old fairgrounds will reveal all.

Chad (Greg Hall, lead singer for local band The Johnson Unit and a tall, skinny Elvis impersonator) should serve as the focus of the musical. But Hall doesn’t have enough vocal training or power, and though he has clearly worked hard on his acting, ain’t no swang to his thang. Luckily, Teran’s pure excellence as Natalie (and Ed) carries many of their scenes together.

Other strong cast members include Jean as Sylvia and Apelzin (whose mom also appears in the ensemble) as Lorraine. Both possess strong voices and mobile features perfect for musical theater. Apelzin and Klute, who perform competitively together in high school musical theater competitions, move together easily. Joyner is sweet and fairly solid as “Natalie’s daddy,” and Carter has some good, if melodramatic, moments as Miss Sandra.

Generally, this show serves up slice after thick slice of Velveeta: It’s gooey, enveloping and all too yummy. From the full-on hokey chorus scenes (which were highly enjoyable) to the sublimely absurd “statues come to life” set piece for Miss Sandra and Ed; from the doofiest lines (“Feel it in your heart!”) to the goofiest expressions (the falling-in-love trope of “One Night with You”), this show bounces from moment to moment with not even a crust of whole-wheat bread underpinning the cheese.

And yet, who cares? I mean really, who cares? The silly script by Joe DiPietro no more than scantily covers the body of the piece: Elvis songs!! I was surprised people weren’t on their feet by the end. Yes, OK, I understand that Elvis would be 72 now were he alive, and that definitely influences the average age of those snapping up tickets for this show, but people, get up and dance. The cast members, often blasting out their lungs (and our ears), deserve a bit more love. To be honest, one night with them and you won’t be able to help falling in deeply affectionate like with this schmaltzy, fun musical.