ALL SHOOK UP AT THE IVORYTON PLAYHOUSE
By Diana Insolio
Take a cup (make that a gallon) of 1950’s nostalgia, add a formulaic plot by Joe DiPietro (author of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), add songs by a rock star (in this case Elvis Presley) a la Mamma Mia! and her progeny, a dash of cross-dressing a la Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a spicy dollop of racial and gender consciousness, and voila, you have All Shook Up, the musical now in performance at the Ivoryton Playhouse. It is a perfect offering for a lazy summer evening, as pleasantly stimulating and intellectually unchallenging as that lightweight romance novel you’ve been reading at the beach.
Here’s the setup: It is 1955 in a Midwestern town whose geeky residents are ruled by a buffoon of a mayor (Melissa McLean) on the lookout for violations of the town’s Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act which prohibits loud music, public necking, and tight pants. Enter Chad, a guitar-playing, hip-gyrating, testosterone-driven teen (played with confidence and kick by Preston Ellis), who motorcycles into town looking for a good mechanic to repair his chopper. Natalie, the mechanic, immediately falls for Chad, who rebuffs her. In a riff from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Natalie disguises herself as a boy to get closer to Chad. (Danielle Bowen, fairly believable but jittery as the girl-mechanic, is downright lovable disguised as “Ed”). In the meantime Chad’s sexual energy sparks a firestorm of romances as he falls for Sandra, the sexy owner of the town’s museum (Mara Jill Herman), who falls in love with Natalie disguised as Ed, whose father, Jim, (R. Bruce Connelly), is loved by saloon owner Sylvia (Onyie), whose daughter, Lorraine (Danielle Famble) falls in love with the Mayor’s son, Dean (Logan Scott Mitchell). When the latter romance happens all hell breaks loose and we learn that in a world of love there is no space for racism or (when Chad finally falls for “Ed”) homophobia.
If most of the Presley songs, edgy and rebellious in their day, feel canned in their lighthearted American Musical reincarnation, Heartbreak Hotel, and All Shook Up can still thrill when sung by the production’s ensemble under Musical Director Logan Medland and as directed by Richard Amelius, who also choreographed the production.
Scenic Designer Cully Long has done a nice job with the set, creating an intimate small town atmosphere comprising a jukebox saloon, blue suede shoe store, and Standard Oil garage. The Ivoryton Playhouse’s website, www.ivorytonplayhouse.org, offers an interesting glimpse into the making of the town’s Midwestern appearance. All Shook Up, Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street Ivoryton, CT 06442, 860.767.7318, Through July 27th.