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THEATER REVIEW

Elvis tunes to a Bard beat

The jukebox musical `All Shook Up' wraps Presley songs around Shakespeare's plot lines.

June 02, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Oh, Elvis, look what they've done to you. The velvet paintings weren't enough. Nor the sunglasses with the fake sideburns attached. Now they've taken your sexy, hopped-up songs and homogenized them into a breezy, cheesy Broadway show.

"All Shook Up," which played a scant six months in New York, has hit the road, with a current engagement in Costa Mesa and an upcoming one in San Diego as its only Southern California stops.

The show -- like "Mamma Mia!" and a number of the jukebox musicals emboldened by that ABBA compilation's success -- tries to cobble a greatest-hits collection into a story, with little worry over the plot convolutions necessary. Scriptwriter Joe DiPietro has chosen Shakespeare as his model. Yes, you read that right: Shakespeare. Plus a lot of "Footloose." And so he has delivered a tale centered on pompadoured, hip-swiveling, Elvis Presley-like Chad, who rides his motorcycle through mid-1950s Middle America, exciting the teens and causing headaches for the prudish powers that be.

A gym membership appears to be a prerequisite for being cast in this role, and Joe Mandragona's physique has the desired effect of filling a tight black T-shirt and tighter black jeans to their maximum stretching points. Fortunately, Mandragona also has a propulsive rock 'n' roll baritone, as well as the ability to speak his lines with a virile, Elvis-like purr.

Chad has just finished doing the "Jailhouse Rock" in one Podunk town when he's sent on his way and ends up in another depressing burg, where the prospects for romance are so slim that the townspeople harmonize about the loneliness of their "Heartbreak Hotel." He changes all that. Local tomboy Natalie (Jenny Fellner), a grease-stained mechanic, takes one look at him and is jolted into a fantasy rendition of "One Night With You."

This becomes a much-repeated musical punch line as one after another of the townspeople falls in love, though often with the wrong person. Among these are the nerd-boy (Dennis Moench) who's sweet on Natalie, the no-nonsense proprietress of the local bar (Jannie Jones), Natalie's widowed dad (Wally Dunn) and the knockout new administrator of the local museum, played by Susan Anton. Yes, you read that right: Susan Anton.

Soon, Natalie's in drag as a guy, figuring she may have a better chance of hanging around the uninterested Chad if she tries to be his pal -- echoes of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." They and the rest of the would-be lovers head for the deserted old fairgrounds, much as the couples in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" head for the woods. And I haven't yet mentioned the plot twists nicked from "As You Like It" and "Romeo and Juliet," but I'm running out of space.

Set designer David Rockwell envisions colorfully cartoonish, mock-vintage environments (the use of a neon Mobil gas sign is a particularly deft touch), and Stephen Oremus has come up with musical arrangements that emphasize the rhythm and blues in Elvis' music. Director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Sergio Trujillo pump all of this into a veritable souffle of style and energy.

The show doesn't pretend to be high art, and it works hard to please. Still, it delivers nowhere near the power of the real Elvis, so it's nothing to get all shook up about.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`All Shook Up'

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

Ends: June 10

Price: $20 to $70

Contact: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Also

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre

When: June 26 to July 1

Contact: (619) 570-1100

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