Songs keep the view­ers shakin’ de­spite thin plot

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL - Re­view by Wayne Harada

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.

COUR­TESY DI­A­MOND HEAD THE­ATRE

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.

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