"All Shook Up" is a silly send-off of Elvis Presley tunes. The Hackmatack Playhouse production knows it; it plays to it, plays it up even, and for that reason it's a fun, easy, entertaining night in the barn.
Lots of this play doesn't make sense. By cartoon standards, it's a stretch. The songs are shoehorned into a moment, which itself is smashed into multiple, improbable premises. But energy, talent and attitude make it worth a ticket.
Here's the broad strokes: It's set in "anytown" USA in the Eisenhower era. Chad, a handsome, free-spirited ladies' man rides into a small, repressed town and stirs things up. He arrives on a motorcycle and immediately captivates the hearts of all but two women; the initial lady of his affection and the tyrannical, prudish Mayor Matilda Hyde.
The puritanical Mayor has outlawed anything that resembles fun, smacks of sexuality, and and has rhythm. That doesn't stop everyone from finding the beat, and all the wrong love interests, at least to start with. Chad pursues Sandra, while she lusts for Ed. Nerdy Dennis' interest is Natalie, who pines for Chad. Natalie's dad Jim is tracking Sandra, while Lorraine is keeping an eye on him. Even the Mayor has her admirer.
Initially, only one couple - an African American girl, and the white son of the Mayor - are in a reciprocal relationship.
But the core story is that of Chad and Natalie. How that works out, or if it does, is about as big a suspense as the show offers.
Add a few social issues on top of this mishegas, and you have "All Shook Up."
Director Allison Mosier Sheff is really on top of this one. She knows this is cotton candy, and decides she might as well put sprinkles on top.
Her characters are cartoons touched with enough credibility we can stick with their story. Mosier Sheff also adds lots of fun stage business, continuing in that vein. She knows her product, monkeys around with it, and invites the audience to play along.
She's also set a good pace and an interesting stage, which by the way is well designed by Dane Leeman; a nice collaboration between the two that serves the piece.
Choreography by Adele Jones is fitting and offers some really interesting movements and moments.
And then there's the performers, mature and fledgling professionals, a mix rife with advantages.
The majority of the cast is new to the Seacoast and younger, right for the characters. That, in fact, is a reason to see it. While longtime actors like Billy Butler (as Jim) are natural standouts for the mature ease on stage, the younger performers bring a wonderful enthusiasm in addition to honest talent. Here's hoping they're back in the future, and Seacoast audiences get to watch them evolve. They're super as they stand, but oh the potential in this collective.
The cast features a mighty fine collection of pretty voices. Yes, pretty - lovely with individual quality. There are a few strong and robust among them as well, and all but one (understandable for the character) are wonderful.
Rory Tamimie's Chad is the perfect blend of cool and goofball; sort of a simple guy that just happens to have tons of sex appeal. His voice is handsome and appealing and he swings well between the character's two sides.
Allison Abate Lotzkar's Natalie is likable - as the character should be. She brings just the right touches and takes to the character. Here again, a terrific voice.
Jacob Less as Dennis is the whole package. His character is exaggerated, yet in his hands it is one of the more human and touching. His voice is enchanting and strong. An all-around great performance.
Lindsay Andrew makes for a sassy Miss Sandra and is another of the show's powerful voices.
And so it goes straight through the lineup, Teyonna Johnson's Lorraine, Kira Sarai Helper's Sylvia and and Butler's Jim are all smooth.
Kudos to the rest of the cast as well, Adam Settlage as Dean, Tanya West as the Mayor, Paul Strand as Sheriff Earl and Paige Cilluffo as Henrietta. They, along with the ensemble, do their part to make this show more than it is.
One of the show's shake-ups is its stand-out tune. "Fools Fall in Love" zeniths "There's Always Me," the usual favorite. Helper unquestionably does a wonderful job with the latter, but Lotzkar just nails "Fools," really hits the "deep-feels" button.
There's a plethora of great deliveries in this show: "Follow That Dream" with Lotzkar and Tamimie, and "It Hurts Me" by Less. You could add "Don't Be Cruel" with Chad and Jim, and "HoundDog/Teddy Bear," with Tamimie, Andrews, Lotzkar and Less. And the list goes on. In addition, the all cast tunes are wonderfully satisfying.
The only song that didn't fly was the opening "Jailhouse Rock." Given the rest are all they should be, it was likely a case of first-week, opening-scene issues.
A pleasant surprise is a live band on stage that doesn't drown out the vocals - not once; all the words are heard. A fair number of these singers, while the voices are quite lovely, aren't powerful, and still the music and voice are in harmony. This talented band, which brings a lot to the show, is directed by Jenny Citarelli
Supporting arts are just that: costumes by Savannah Cobb sets it well (all but for a distracting skirt which will likely be rectified by weekend two); and lighting by Michael Turner.
"All Shook Up" is a spirited, high energy production. There's not much to grab your heart - think fluff. But there is a lot to please - think talent. Take it in for a fine summer night at the barn.
Go & Do
What: "All Shook Up"
When: Through July 21, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thursdays at 2 p.m.
Where: Hackmatack Playhouse, 538 State Route 9, Berwick, Maine
Tickets: $25 to $30; seniors, $20 to $25; Ages 20 and under, $15
More info: Visit www.hackmatack.org or call (207) 698-1807