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'All Shook Up' shines (despite cast missing bus opening night)

Steven Grant Douglas stars as Chad in 'All Shook Up' Steven Grant Douglas stars as Chad in 'All Shook Up'

A small, Midwest town in the 1950s is abruptly transformed for the better in the Flat Rock Playhouse’ fresh production “All Shook Up.”

 

Elvis Presley’s most iconic songs provide the soundtrack to this musical comedy, which premiered on Broadway in 2005 and has since spurred ardent toe tapping in audiences around the world. Local theater goers Friday night were affected just the same, as the professional cast and live band kept the time to an upbeat show, despite several technical complications.

The story, by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, centers on a young mechanic named Natalie (Natalie Storrs) and a hip-swiveling stranger called Chad (Steven Grant Douglas). Chad’s motorcycle has broken down, and while waiting for Natalie to repair it based only on the tip it’s making a “jiggly-wiggly” sound, the charismatic newcomer thrusts his way across town, sending women into a frenzy and fixing juke boxes with a touch.
Before Chad’s arrival the stage is dominated by dusty blues and browns, the shades chosen carefully so no one character stands out. While the town’s inhabitants sing the blues in Sylvia’s honky-tonk bar, any chosen moment could be frozen and mistaken for a faded photo. Only a couple rock ’n’ roll numbers later, an almost imperceptible change has occurred. Fluorescent pinks and blues; vibrant purple dresses and blue suede shoes. The new lighting casts an electric glow so that even characters without a costume change appear invigorated by the new rebellion against “decency” laws. And everyone is falling in love.
Scott Treadway, a veteran star at the Playhouse, plays Natalie’s father, Jim. His loose-limbed stage presence provides comic relief, and his widower backstory endears him to the audience from scene one. Performing opposite Treadway, Alana Cauthen as bar owner Sylvia shines in every scene she inhabits. Cauthen’s velvety notes in her solo “There’s Always Me” reach the back row with ease, and even her one-lined quips are delivered with a realism that reminds viewers of the serious implications lurking in this comical society. The friendship between Jim and Sylvia may be just one of several blossoming loves on stage, but theirs stands out for its weathered and earned feel.
Weathered is the opposite vibe the cast exuded throughout Friday night, where repeated mic issues and set snafus plagued an otherwise well-rehearsed production. Characters who found themselves performing without the help of speakers magnified their voices automatically until their mic was turned on. Not a move was missed during the very first musical number, when only the women could be clearly heard. Surely such a jarring start to the first show in front of an audience would throw off the rest of the night. However, the cast barreled on as if nothing was amiss; their professionalism allowing everyone in the room to relax in the knowledge the cast knew what they were doing.
The ensemble, in particular, achieved greatness in this endeavor. Not only for nailing the clever dances by Amy Jones, who both directed and choreographed this hit, but for the detailed work each actor put into their nameless characters. A good ensemble alternately pops when needed, and blends into the background. A good ensemble moves as one while maintaining individual personalities. But a great ensemble makes it so an audience member’s gaze never wanders from the main action to a blank face. So thorough was the character work, more than once a background character drew attention simply by reacting to the main action in a genuine and unique way.
When, about twenty minutes until intermission, the play was halted suddenly, many wondered aloud about the cause. Nothing had appeared amiss before the curtains were drawn, and for the next several minutes curious murmuring ensued. The gifted Linda Edwards, who recently starred in the Playhouse’s “Separate Beds,” got the show going again when her interrupted character Mayor Hyde resumed with a lofty “As I was saying,” continuing the scene unflustered. A life-size cut out of a bus now sat stage left, and the reason for stoppage was soon evident. The next song involved a bus chase on bicycle.
Act II of “All Shook Up” ran more smoothly, and ticket holders all but forgot the choppy beginning in the swirl of carnival lights and Elvis songs that followed. The live band of accomplished musicians remained a highlight of the musical, and were featured upstage in their own colorful frame. Only seven men made up the musical ensemble, yet the flurry of chords and quick transitions filled up the theater, immersing the crowd in a different time. Different time, but same obstacles to love, as it turns out. Perhaps the lesson from Friday night is perseverance, for cast, crew and characters. Perseverance, and a pair of blue suede shoes. It worked for Chad.

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Performances of “All Shook Up” are 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For tickets call 828-693-0731 or visit www.flatrockplayhouse.org.