All Shook Up
(Inspired by and Featuring Songs of Elvis Presley)
1564 Broadway at 47th Street
Starring Cheyenne Jackson, Jenn Gambatese,
Jonathan Hadary, Leah Hocking, Curtis Holbrook,
Nikki M. James, John Jellison, Alix Korey, Mark Price, Sharon Wilkins, and a Cast of singers and dancers
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Choreography by Ken Roberson and Sergio Trujillo
Book by Joe DiPietro
Music Supervision and Arrangements by Stephen Oremus
Set Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Hair/Wig Design: David H. Lawrence
Orchestrations: Michael Gibson and Stephen Oremus
Dance Music Arrangements: Zane Mark
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Associate Director: Daniel Goldstein
Casting: Bernard Telsey casting
Marketing: The Marketing Group
General Management: Alan Wasser Associates and Allan Williams
Technical Supervisor: Juniper Street Productions
Production Stage Manager: Lois L. Griffing
Producers: Jonathan Pollard, Bernie Kukoff, Clear Channel Entertainment, Harbor Entertainment, Miramax Films Bob & Harvey Weinstein, Stanley Buchthal, Eric Falkenstein, Nina Essman/Nancy Nagel Gibbs, Jean Cheever, Margaret Cotter, and associates.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 30, 2005
Full disclosure: As a child, I loved the older Elvis, ran a two-person Elvis Fan Club, own some Elvis 45’s, and still quiver at the sound of his recordings. He was racy, raunchy, raw, and romantic. That’s the Elvis I longed to see and hear at the Palace tonight. But, not only was Cheyenne Jackson (Chad in the show) not really Elvis, no impersonation here, but he did not totally act or look or sing like Elvis. He did have a guitar, he did undulate his hips, he did have black, wavy hair, and he did woo the women. But, this is a show “inspired” by Elvis, not “about” Elvis, and I should have been disappointed, as my craving for an Elvis fix was not fully realized. But, surprise, the show is entertaining, energetic, and educational. Educational? There are racial, sexual, and age discrimination issues handled with affection and acceptance. 1955 in 2005, the culture of homogeneity and social repression, resurrected and rejected. Kudos in advance.
But, enough of seriousness, as All Shook Up is a fast-paced series of charming vignettes, spliced with known and unknown Elvis and Elvis-like songs, with terrific timing (thanks to Director, Christopher Ashley), created by Joe DiPietro (who wrote I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!). Cheyenne Jackson, the “roustabout” Chad, who comes to town in 1955 and unhinges the repressive behavior, imposed by prissy, pugnacious Mayor Matilda Hyde (Alix Korey), lets loose a series of magnetic love attachments, that cross racial divides, almost cross sexual divides, and cross longtime behavior divides (like that of the Mayor, herself).
There are sexual characters (like Miss Sandra, the museum guide), lonely characters (like Jim Haller, a widower and father to Natalie), driven characters (like Natalie, who poses as Ed to “hang with” Chad), pathetic characters (like Dennis, who longs for Natalie’s affection), ingénue characters (like Lorraine, who hooks up with the Mayor’s military bound son, Dean Hyde), repressed characters (like Sheriff Earl, who quietly serves the Mayor, while boiling with passion), and wild characters (like Sylvia, Lorraine’s mother and Jim’s longtime lover-to-be).
Then, there is the music. Jailhouse Rock is one of the high points, with Chad an almost Elvis on a multi-tiered black/gray prison, with lots of striped suits and lots of rhythm. Love Me Tender, sung by Natalie and Dennis, passionately opens the show, and Burning Love, sung by everyone, passionately closes the show. Don’t Be Cruel, sung by Chad and Jim, is meant to woo Sandra, their mutual object of desire. One Night with You is sung in fragments by almost everyone, in campy timing, just as they lay eyes on their newest love target. Blue Suede Shoes (with the Company wearing the bluest, brightest suede shoes in many styles and sizes, all designed and created by Phil LaDuca of LaDuca shoes, who made most of the dance shoes for this production) is sung by Ed (Natalie in disguise) and Chad, her magnetic macho man. And, It’s Now or Never, with Dean and Lorraine in a daring duet of star-crossed love, is still humming in my head.
Jenn Gambatese is perky, versatile, and perfect as the cross-dressing Natalie/Ed, with a strong, vibrant voice. Jonathan Hadary, as her re-energized father, who finds his new mate at the end, is paternal and boyish at once, the point of his role. Mark Price as Dennis, the wimpy friend and would-be lover of Natalie, has layered personalities that emerge on cue. Sharon Wilkins, as the big mama, Sylvia, is hilarious and carries her out-sized costumes with ease. Alix Korey, as the Mayor, is quite believable as the repressive force behind all the rebellion and self-expression, including that of her son, Dean, ably played by Curtis Holbrook. Nikki James, as Lorraine, Sylvia’s daring daughter, sings and dances in a very fifties way. John Ellison, as Sheriff Earl, is hilarious, when he finally lets loose. Leah Hocking, as the curvaceous Miss Sandra, is brains and brawn, with vocal chords to match.
Cheyenne Jackson, the lead and Elvis incarnation (the impressionistic version), has stage power, a riveting presence, and a great voice, too. Choreography, by Ken Roberson and Sergio Trujillo (of Ballet Hispanico’s NightClub), was styled to the fifties, some swing, some kicks, some acrobatics. I was hoping for sixties “twist”, but they opted for fifties “hop”. Joe DiPietro’s book brimmed with endearing and engaging moments, and Stephen Oremus’ musical arrangements seamlessly merged with colorful, over-sized sets.
And, there lie some of the unsung heroes: David Rockwell (sets), David C. Woolard (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting), and Brian Ronan (sound). I have never seen or imagined sets with suspended motorcycle angels, live and sculpted, with churches with stained glass windows that open to open roads and a hunk on a bike, with floor to rafter jail cells, with shifting earth and hills that roll, with distant fairgrounds that swell to life and to light, with indoors turning to outdoors in the flash of a song, and with colors that make fantasy surreal, a kaleidoscopic dream, a dream of Elvis, 1955 in 2005.
Before or after the show at the Palace Theatre, which happens to be at Broadway and 47th Street, stop at Amarone restaurant, Ninth Avenue at 47th Street, and ask for Tony, the proprietor. Tony watches over his kitchen day and night, like a hawk, and this busy, bustling bistro serves the freshest of pastas, salads, fish, meats, and antipasto. Tell Tony you saw him on RobertaOnTheArts.com.
All Shook UP
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus