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Theatre Review (LA): All Shook Up with the Music of Elvis Presley

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Elvis is still the King, at least in Long Beach. I attended the final, sold-out performance of the regional premiere of All Shook Up, which features the music of Elvis, albeit made suitable for Broadway and minus sexual overtones, and a book by Joe Dipietro. It is touted as Shakespeare meets Elvis because it borrows from Twelfth Night and even As You Like It.

This is not an original concept. A combination of rock music and Twelfth Night resulted in the highly successful 1968 musical Your Own Thing. In fact, most of the plot of All Shook Up feels borrowed. There are elements of Grease and Bye Bye Birdie.

There have been other attempts to make a musical out of one artist's music: Moving Out (Billie Joel), Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons), and Mamma Mia (Abba). And there have been many shows dealing with the '60s: Hairspray, Bye Bye Birdie, Saturday Night Fever, Dirty Dancing, and soon Crybaby. Still, All Shook Up succeeds, mainly because of Elvis, but also because of the powerful performances by its two stars, Derek Keeling and Bets Malone, the lively direction by Steven Glaudini, and the choreography of the ubiquitous and talented Lee Martino.

Derek Keeling plays Chad, a roving minstrel who is part Elvis, part James Dean, and part Marlon Brando in <i>The Wild One.</i> He sings the hell out of the songs and gyrates his pelvis with the best of them. Bets Malone, one of my very favorite performers, brings her usual vulnerability, acting chops, and unique singing skills to the role(s) of Natalie and then a male impersonation of a roustabout who wins Chad’s heart and, should I say, loins.

Sexual longing and ambiguity is all part of the brew (this is where the Shakespeare comes in). Glaudini keeps things moving in order to accommodate 26 Elvis songs. Martino keeps things rocking in her choreography. It was fun to see ensemble member Charlie Williams, who first caught my eye in Pajama Game. I expect him to move up to a principal role soon. I also loved Traci Lore vamping it up as the local museum head and Barry Pearl as Natalie’s father. Both were delightful.

At the end the audience jumped to their feet, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Apparently the show broke box office records. Count on Paul Garman to produce shows his audience wants to see. Produced by Musical Theatre West at The Carpenter Center.

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