Songs keep the viewers shakin’ despite thin plot
To appreciate “All Shook Up,” Diamond Head Theatre’s latest musical, it helps to know what it’s not. It’s not about Elvis Presley, though it’s titled after one of his rock songs and features a chunk of his tunes.
It’s not an Elvis impersonation outing, though Chad (Kaimana Ramos) possesses the Elvis aura — he roars onstage on a motorcycle wearing a leather jacket, blue suede shoes and the king’s cloak of manners: sideburns, swivel hips and good cheer. The title song has a hook and a punch, and while there’s whole lotta shakin’ going from a talented cast of 25, this 2005 roustabout from Broadway (which I saw then) is stymied by the ghosts of shows past. Cheyenne Jackson, who played the Elvis-inspired dude on Broadway, put the character on the radar but, alas, not on the map.
Simply, “All Shook Up” is theatrical confection, a cutand-paste fantasy jammed with yesteryear’s jukebox tunes. Its plot is paper thin, with echoes from “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Footloose,” “Grease,” “Hairspray” and even “Twelfth Night.” There are mistaken identities, and it’s set over 24 hours in a Midwestern community where a mayor frowns on loud rock music and plain folks are yearning for true love.
It’s a stroll down memory lane, circa mid-’50s, and borrows the template from the ABBA jukebox musical, “Mamma Mia.” Songs don’t connect or propel the story — they’re not original to the production anyway — but provide opportunities to dance, prance and court romance. Souls who initially don’t know who loves whom get enmeshed in love triangles on several fronts. Fresh out of prison, Chad — searching for a garage mechanic for his disabled cycle — zooms into town and stumbles into an uptight morality code. Ramos’ Chad is charismatic and persuasive, easily a crowd favorite; he dances better than he sings, but charm could be his middle name; he’s also a hard body, removing his T-shirt in one instance for proof. He seeks the services of a female mechanic named Natalie (Sarah Halford), who later passes herself as a dude named Ed, complicating her quest of burning love. Nonetheless, Halford’s vocal prowess is
best in show. Director Malindi Fickle displays skill and invention, enabling cookie-cutter secondary principals to shine: Natalie’s widowed father, Jim Haller (Matthew Pedersen), has difficulty expressing himself; Sylvia (Aiko Schick), a honky-tonk club owner, is a scene stealer with impressive vocal depth; a love-struck Dennis (Kyle McNamara) courts heartbreak at every turn, but he’s a cool crooner; teen Lorraine (Megan Boggs), ready for a relationship, is smitten over Dean (Kai Durkin), a cute match; but Dean’s mom is the cliched Mayor Matilda Hyde (Stacey Pulmano), who is despicable in morality codes but delightful in comedics.
Ike Webster’s eight-member orchestra brings the Elvis catalogue of tunes to life, romping and roaring in the rock vein, smooth and sentimental in the romantic mode. The company’s rendering of the pre-intermission “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with alternating lead vocals, is among the evening’s ensemble high points. Christine Yasunaga’s choreography is eye filling and ebullient, giving the production its vitality and vibrancy; the agile cast projects genuine joy and fun.
Karen G. Wolfe’s costumes are period-perfect, especially with the whirling skirts of the women, and Friston S. Ho‘okano continues to excel in hair and makeup wizardry. Willie Sabel’s sets are generously creative, ranging from nostalgic honky-tonk bar to amusement park panorama including a roller coaster, a tunnel of love and a portion of a Ferris wheel. Oh, a rainbow arch of lights fronts the proscenium, and utilized efficiently. Finally, Cameron Olson’s sound and Dawn Oshima’s lighting enhance and embellish the show. First-nighters didn’t need much persuasion to finger-snap and clap-along, breaking the fourth wall of theater. The viewers were shook up enough to offer a standing ovation at the final curtain.
Kaimana Ramos makes for an appealing Chad, who bears more than a striking resemblance to Elvis Presley’s public persona, down to the blue suede shoes, in “All Shook Up,” a fun and slight musical that captures hijinks in a small Midwestern town over a 24-hour period.