'All Shook Up' for the season

Theater review

Summer Garden closes schedule with Elvis homage

August 14, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre completes its season with the third in a fresh trio of less-familiar musicals with music from the 1940s to 1960s: All Shook Up, which celebrates the music of Elvis Presley and offers light, fun fare for a summer evening.

Joe DiPietro's musical, which ran for 213 Broadway performances in 2005, takes its gender-bending premise of mistaken identities from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. It also reminds us of Footloose in its small-town prohibition of fun, and of Hairspray in its welcoming of interracial dating, with a dash of Grease and Bye Bye Birdie thrown in.

In All Shook Up, leather-jacketed roustabout Chad arrives, newly sprung from jail, in a small Midwest town in search of motorcycle repair and adventure. Chad discovers a competent female mechanic working at her father's garage. He also discovers a dull community needing enlivening and soon encourages the natives to spice up their lives with romance. This is much opposed by the town's mayor, who vigorously enforces the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act.

Vincent Kirk Musgrave as Chad summons an Elvis aura without ever imitating him. He has the best voice in the cast to do justice to the Elvis songbook, from "Jailhouse Rock" to "Love Me Tender" to the title tune, and he conjures up enough of the King's sex appeal to make female cast members' reactions believable, while stirring in some needed humor. In a cast of stand-out dancers, Musgrave more than holds his own.

Ali Guidry's performance as tomboy Natalie Haller, who takes a turn as "Ed," is excellent. In ASGT's season opener, On the Town, Guidry played Miss Turnstiles - a role that offered no hint of her wide range of talents. Here Guidry proves she can play a leading role, transform herself from a lovely young lady to a believable guy named Ed, and deliver comic lines along the way. Guidry also proves her vocal versatility in stand-out renditions of "One Night with You," "Fools Fall in Love" and an expressive "Love Me Tender" duet with Chad.

Noteworthy supporting players are led by Bob Brewer, who plays Natalie's father, Jim, and does his own transformation from square dud to sauntering stud, complete with leather jacket, skinny jeans and blue suede shoes. Jim Haller shares the same love object as Chad - Miss Sandra. Brewer nicely croons his way through "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."

Other fine performances include Nathan Bowen's dependable Dennis, in need of some image-bolstering to impress Natalie. Robyn Birch plays Jim's friend Sylvia and sings a spirited "That's All Right" and a moving "There's Always Me" when expressing her love for Jim. Taylor Jae N. Touzin makes a stunning ASGT debut as museum docent Miss Sandra, who stirs up Jim's latent yearnings, along with Chad's more open ones.

Director-choreographer Patricia Golden makes a strong Summer Garden debut revisiting our most treasured rock legend with a light touch. This deceptively simple show requires split-second timing on-stage as well as knowledge of the individual strengths in the 25-member cast. They become a strong chorus enlivening the score and a graceful ensemble seamlessly navigating two space levels. In her job as choreographer, Golden fills the stage with sparkling dances of the '60s era that demand high energy and Olympian athleticism - which she receives from this fabulous ensemble.

The show is propelled by live musicians Karl Alexander on reeds, Rob Weaver on guitar, Randy Malm on bass and Mike Morris on drums, all of whom are led by pianist Ken Kimble.

When I saw the show Aug. 3, there was annoying body microphone feedback that I was assured had not occurred on opening night. My only other complaint was the sometimes inadequate lighting.

The two-tiered set with its semblance of a carnival ground's Ferris wheel and merry-go-round is adequate if not inspired, and the costumes brightly evoke the rockin' era.

All Shook Up performances are at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 30 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. (Note: Tonight's performance is sold out.)

Tickets cost $18 for adults and $15 for students, seniors and groups of 20 or more. Call 410-268-9212 for reservations.

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