Updated: Feb 21, 2020
In 'All Shook Up,' a young rebel channeling Elvis shakes up a sleepy town
Brea's Curtis Theatre produces a new version of the 2005 jukebox musical, directed by Brooke Aston, that uses elements of Shakespeare comedies to showcase more than two-dozen great Presley songs.
By Eric Marchese
Everyone loves Elvis Presley, one of the most popular and celebrated pop culture icons of all time. So, what better than a jukebox musical culled from the Elvis songbook?
That’s “All Shook Up” in a nutshell, a 2005 Broadway show. The book by Joe DiPietro – best known for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” and whose book for the 2010 musical “Memphis” won that year’s Tony Award – creates the ideal framework for 25 of Presley’s best songs, including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and, of course, the song for which the show is named: “All Shook Up.”
The 2005 Broadway jukebox musical features 25 Elvis Presley songs, showcased by a Joe DiPietro book that’s based primarily on the Shakespeare play “Twelfth Night” but that also borrows liberally from “As You Like It” and “Much Ado About Nothing” – all among the most lighthearted of the Bard’s works – as well as the still comical but more fantasy-oriented “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
As in many a Shakespeare comedy, each character falls in love with someone who loves someone else, forming a seemingly endless comical daisy chain. The frequently used (in Shakespeare’s works) gimmick of a woman disguising herself as a man multiplies the romantic mix-ups. It all makes for an appealingly silly, loose confection utilizing a cast of 21.
The storyline DiPietro weaves is fairly straightforward: In a square little midwestern town in a (nameless) square little state in the summer of 1955, Chad – Paul Zelhart in Brea’s new staging – is being released from having spent a week in jail. His infraction? Getting the town’s women excited.
Guitar and black leather jacket in hand, he rides his motorcycle to the next town, where a “decency” law prohibits “loud music, public necking and tight clothes.”
Wouldn’t you know that the town’s best auto repair person is Natalie (played by Anna Miles), a mechanically minded young lady more at home under the hood of a car than going out for a spin on a Saturday night. Chad captures her attention and imagination, but he walks right past her in favor of Sandra (Kimberly Tiongco), the brainy blonde bombshell who runs the town’s museum.
As you might expect, though, Sandra wants nothing to do with the young, self-described roustabout.
Natalie realizes she might stand a better chance of hanging out with Chad were she a man, so she dresses accordingly, drops the pitch of her voice and creates an alter ego named “Ed” who quickly becomes Chad’s new sidekick and best pal.
Adding to the show’s comic complications are the fact that Chad fights his inexplicable attraction to Ed, who also captures the romantic attention of none other than Sandra, attracted to Ed’s smarts and refinement.
DiPietro’s lightly comedic storyline taps the humor inherent in gender interplay, a guy or girl harboring a secret crush for a longtime acquaintance of the opposite sex, and one device used frequently by Shakespeare: a woman disguising herself as a man, which generates no end of complications in the characters’ lives.
And while you might think that elements from plays written more than 400 years ago can’t possibly gel with songs like “Love Me Tender,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “If I Can Dream,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog,” you’d be dead wrong – because “All Shook Up” is a cleverly creative crowd-pleaser.
The Chad persona is a thinly veiled version of the character Presley often created on the big screen, a roustabout who goes from town to town, capturing the hearts of young ladies and the ire of their parents with his sizzling, suggestive songs, which he delivers with his voice and guitar, all while swiveling his hips in a manner most mainstream Americans of the ’50s would consider lewd.
The uninhibited, extroverted young guy genuinely enjoys seeing people relax and have fun – so you can imagine the effect he has on everyone around him. He’s a pied piper to those who want to enjoy life, while everyone opposed to looser morals see him as the worst possible influence.
The show’s title refers not just to how he shakes up the entire town, but also the stable yet uninspired lives of each person living there.
If anyone is equipped to deliver a socko “All Shook Up,” it’s Brooke Aston, director of Curtis’ production.
Aston began traveling as a performer at the age of 16 and is a graduate of CSUF’s musical theater program who has performed everything from Shakespeare and Chekhov to British comedies and, of course, musical theater.
You might even say Aston is a “quintuple threat,” an actor, singer, writer, producer and educator. She was a longtime member of The Young Americans who now teaches voice to those new to the troupe. As impressive is the fact that her touring work in regional theater, on cruise ships and as a band singer has taken her to 47 states.
Nearly a decade ago (2010-2011), she was in the cast of “All Shook Up” for the show’s fifth national tour. Just for fun, Aston decided to tap a few of her castmates to create and perform what she calls “a traditional, New York-style” cabaret show they took to local venues as the musical moved from city to city.
So she’s intimately familiar with “All Shook Up.”
“This is a show that I understand,” Aston says. “I understand the tone, the comedy, and the general message. Like with any show I direct, I hope I bring a fresh and open mind to how I cast these roles, but I always want to stay true to the creators’ themes and story.”
How hard is it to find someone with the kind of charisma that came so naturally to Elvis? “All you have to do is find a charmer, someone who can stand and exude self-confidence without being obnoxious.”
It’s a “fine line,” she maintained, “and Paul (Zelhart) is doing it perfectly.”
Aston’s also got a few veterans of the show in her cast. Tiongco has played various roles in past productions of “All Shook Up.” Brian Wiegel plays Dean Hyde, husband of town mayor Matilda Hyde, a role he has essayed previously. Cam Burchard, who plays Dennis, has also played Dean Hyde. Jennifer Harmon, who plays Matilda in Brea, has been in the ensemble of “All Shook Up,” as has Terry Dopson, again working as an ensemble member.
Joining Aston in bringing the show’s Elvis-oriented rock score to life are music director Jared Scott and choreographer Kelsie Blackwell.
Asked to describe the biggest challenge in directing the show, Aston said “the biggest challenge is also the most fun.” How so? “I like to make sure that the ensemble has its own mini-storylines that we see in scene changes and crowd numbers. We’re having fun doing that.”
She deems DiPietro’s script as “so perfect. As long as you don’t try to do too much to it, it is just a funny show.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 35 years as a freelance and staff journalist, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater in Orange County and throughout Southern California.
‘All Shook Up’
Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea
Feb. 7-23. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.