You’re a fan of Elvis Presley. You’re a fan of the plot twists in Shakespearean comedies. You like to laugh. If you fall in one or more of these categories, then “C’mon Everybody” – Williams Street Repertory’s new production of “All Shook Up” at the Raue Center is one you “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with. (And yes, the three songs – including the title tune – mentioned in that sentence all are featured, along with many others recorded by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.)
Unlike shows such as “Beautiful,” “On Your Feet!” and “Jersey Boys,” which provide semi-biographical portraits of musicians (Carole King, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and the Four Seasons), “All Shook Up,” with a book by Joe DiPietro, is a “jukebox musical” with a fun, fictional plot that never mentions Elvis.
There is a guitar-playing, cool, Elvis-like “roustabout” with a leather jacket and a motorbike, who gets things revved up from the get-go with a rollicking rendition of “Jailhouse Rock,” celebrating the end of his one-week stay in jail (apparently for minor offenses such as “exciting our women”). But DiPietro doesn’t give all of the songs to “Chad,” and that leads to some enjoyably diverse arrangements and performers/characters for songs throughout the show.
The 1950s storyline takes us to an unnamed small Midwest city that clearly could use some excitement. Mayor Matilda (played to uptight perfection by Sheri Warren) has banned everything from loud music to necking, and many of the townspeople are unhappy, including Natalie (Claire Latourette), a mechanic who dreams of an exciting true love taking her away from the dreary town; Jim (Steve McDonagh), Natalie’s widowed father who thinks he’d be lost without his daughter; Dennis (Jonah Cochin), Natalie’s somewhat nerdy and awkward best friend who has a secret crush on her; Sylvia (Sierra White), a good friend to Jim who owns the town’s honky tonk; Lorraine (Chamaya Moody), Sylvia’s 16-year-old daughter who yearns for love; Miss Sandra (Teresa Arnold), a smart and beautiful museum caretaker who attracts mostly undesired attention; Dean (Austin Book), the mayor’s son who’s been attending a military academy; Sheriff Earl (Frank Gaughan), a man of very few words who typically is at the mayor’s beck and call for law enforcement.
When Chad (Michael Metcalf) rolls into town needing the services of a mechanic and wearing blue suede shoes (“Nobody step on them”), a number of characters find themselves opening up to the possibility of being struck by Cupid’s arrow, one of them even taking the drastic measure of pretending to be a member of the opposite sex in order to get closer to the handsome stranger. Could this disguise backfire in some way? If you’ve seen Tootsie or Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, you have your answer.
Directing the production is the multitalented Williams Street Rep ensemble member Mark R. Mahallak, who deserves kudos for casting – these actors and the members of the ensemble all appear to be having the times of their lives – and for keeping the tempo, humor and plot twists flowing smoothly.
Music director Celia Villacres, making her Raue debut, has a strong seven-piece band and has brought out some poignant, playful and powerful singing performances from the cast. The audience on opening night, for instance, was especially moved by a second-act song by Sierra White, “There’s Always Me.”
The imprint of choreographer Billy Seger also is evident here. When it comes to the dancing displayed in numerous production numbers, this fictional town’s citizens could show the townspeople of “Footloose” a thing or two.
A couple of minor criticisms: the printed program for opening weekend was missing the names of the band members and song titles featured in the show. With the quality of the performances in the pit, the band members clearly deserve a bit of recognition, and as an audience member waiting for the show to start or perusing the program at intermission, it’d be nice to know the hit songs and less familiar numbers DiPietro has included.
While there are messages of love and acceptance (e.g., interracial relationships) that are embedded in “All Shook Up,” this is not a heavy drama (e.g., the outstanding “The Elephant Man,” presented earlier this spring by Williams Street Rep). This production is a whole lot of fun, and “That’s All Right,” so “Don’t Be Cruel” to your significant other – “Let Yourself Go” to the Raue before this show closes July 21 – after all, “It’s Now or Never.”
• Paul Lockwood is a past president of TownSquare Players (TSP) and an occasional community theater actor, appearing in over 30 plays, musicals, and revues since he and his wife moved to Woodstock in 2001. Recent shows include "42nd Street," "Once Upon a Mattress," "On Golden Pond" and "9 to 5: The Musical," as well as Right-Center-Left Production Company's upcoming July 12-28 charity dinner-theater play, "Morning's at Seven" (www.rclpctheater.com).