MIDVALE — As my husband, teenage son, and I entered the theatre to see All Shook Up, black and white videos of ‘50s singers such as the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and others played on a screen at the back of the stage. This was fun and lively and made me look forward to a raucous night of Elvis tunes. The pre-show entertainment was a troupe of eight little girls dancing and singing to ‘50s tunes. These kids were cute, but I wasn’t sure why they were performing. They were, as most kid groups are, having more fun than pursuing a career path and it seemed a rather odd opening act. I wondered how these little kids could be prefacing something that would surely be great. I mean, Elvis? That ought to really rock the house.
It didn’t. To be very honest, the confusing and pointless pre-show was a dismal prelude of things to come. In one short statement, All Shook Up was a mess from beginning to end. The problems were numerous and consistent.
In the lead role, Cassidy Ross looked comfortable onstage and did well as both the tomboyish Natalie and as disguised sidekick Ed, but her voice and emotional portrayal were above average but not stellar. She has a decent voice, but her duets with Chad, such as “Follow That Dream,” didn’t have the warmth and yearning one would expect with future sweethearts. I wanted more passion from her. Lorraine, played by Alexandria Zinov sometimes talked too fast, and seemed much younger than the character’s age of sixteen, though her voice was harmonic and sweet. Andy Harris, who played Dean, is a pretty good actor, but had a weak singing voice. Dean and Lorraine were the youngest of the show’s star-crossed lovers, and their performances were strong enough when together that their scenes came across as cute. Sterling Young, who plays the Elvis-type “Roustabout” Chad, is woefully miscast, as he is not the right type for Elvis and has a weak voice. However, his scenes with Natalie’s dad, Jim (gamely played by Jim Schroeder), were quite sweet. Though neither singer was very in tune on their own, together they harmonized well and displayed a little oomph in their duets.
Jim’s scenes with his eventual love, Sylvia, played by Eve Speer, are also rather tender. Jim Schroeder, who plays Jim, had an endearing Aw Shucks attitude of putting his hands in his pockets when he was embarrassed or shy that made him a very likeable character. His scenes with his daughter Natalie didn’t have much warmth, but his yearning for Sandra and then his final realization that he loved his good friend Sylvia worked for me. Speer is truly the only standout performer in the whole play, as she could both act and sing well. There were some other actors in the show that were passable, such as Sara McDonald as Mayor Matilda and Ryan Honeycutt as Dennis. McDonald carried a pink bullhorn (a fun prop) and was sufficiently bossy for the part. She also had the best costumes, and her hats and gloves were a nice touch. Honeycutt had his nerd game on pretty well, but seemed too young for the eventual romance with Sandra, played by Liz Rowly Hilst. Hilst can sing well, though her songs went higher than her voice did. And she played her part well, but I imagine she struggled trying to figure out what to do with such a strange character. She plays Sandra, who is supposed to be a rather educated curator in an art museum (in a little hick town?) but becomes a sexual tigress when she reads a Shakespeare sonnet from a secret admirer.
Costume Mistress Jan Harris’ costumes were pretty and cool (depending on the scene), especially in the “Jailhouse Rock” number with silver portable bars that reminded me of the original Elvis video of this song. The costumes were good in this song, too–everyone wearing black and white. Though the musical aspect of this song was disappointing, the visual of this was good. Mayor Matilda had some of the cutest hats of seen onstage. The set decoration throughout the show was nice in a black background kind of way, and I especially like the winding staircase of stage right that lit up with lights whenever Chad came down the stairs. The other scene that stands out in my mind is in the museum with all the statues, played by actors. They stood still until it was time to dance, and their Grecian and Roman costumes were fancy, colorful, and effective. Unfortunately, one of the highlights of the show was when the mechanical door with a hanging skeleton inside of it kept maniacally opening and closing during the wedding scene. The sound from the singers was a little weak as they only had hanging microphones instead of individual mics.
The whole cast numbers, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “C’mon Everybody”, and “All Shook Up” were difficult for me to watch, as many of the chorus members didn’t seem to remember they were onstage consistently and then all of a sudden would become animated. I was bothered that many chorus members didn’t really know what to do with their bodies and sort of stood there with their arms hanging down and their feet still. The last number, “Burnin’ Love” was probably the worst group song—with singers and dancers all over the place (and not in a good way). Though the energy was high, the music was flat, and frankly, I was more than ready for the show to end. The exceptions to the unfortunate singing numbers were “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, which was tender in all the right places. “Ain’t All Right” was pretty good, too, with good energy and lots of fun.
Many of the solo songs were similarly disappointing. Sterling Young’s disappointing opener, “Jailhouse Rock” was painful because of some off key singing. It’s clear that Young tried his best, but this show’s lead needs the drama, charisma, and physique of the young Elvis. Dennis’ solo, “It Hurts Me” was flat and disappointed me as I really loved Ryan Honeycutt’s acting. Jim’s solo, “One Night with You”, too was flat, but his acting was pleasing and it was nice to see an adult play an adult part. For their next show, I would suggest that Midvale Main Street Theatre find a good music director who can help the cast members polish their songs.
The dancing was one of the brighter aspects of All Shook Up. Choreographers Halee Balash and Cassidy Ross wisely chose dance steps that looked fun, but weren’t too difficult for their performers to execute. The best dance number was “Devil in Disguise,” which featured old women dancing with their walkers. I will also mention that the show had one outstanding dancer, Alyssa Alger, who had a duet with one of the male dancers. She added some class to the dances.
So to sum up, out of 29 songs, three were good.
As for the actual script, it is a combination of Shakespeare’s women-playing-men comedy ruse combined with Footloose. Though the audience was filled with young children and the little dancing girls appeared in a few scenes, All Shook Up was about as scandalous onstage as Elvis was in his first few televised performances. There was profanity, numerous uses of deity, and one scene where Sandra screams, “Make love to me!” and then pounces on her intended lover. I realize that because this is a copyrighted script, it’s unlawful to change the wording in any way. Appropriateness aside, the story is sort of cheesy and not terribly humorous. Basically, the few laughs in the show were not part of the script, but goofs from the actors or from technical issues. I feel this was a bad choice on the part of Midvale Main Street Theater.
It is plain that this is a small town production with a limited talent pool and everyone, especially director Tammy Ross, were clearly doing their best. I will give them those props times ten. It also looked like they had fun working on the show and were having a ball performing. I will say, the house was almost full and there were numerous hoots, applause and much adulation from the crowd. Clearly, Midvale comes and supports its arts. However, unless you have a loved one in this show, I wouldn’t spend my time or my money going to see All Shook Up.