Jukebox musicals are oftentimes looked down upon by “serious” theatregoers. Taking existing music, they typically build a slight story around the songs and let the familiarity of the music win the day with audiences. The serious types would rather see shows that feature both original stories and an original score. (For now, let’s leave out of the argument shows that are based on popular films, sometimes even popular film musicals, where original music has been added.)
But, jukeboxes can be fun, especially if the story is engaging and extra especially if there are lots of laughs involved. And All Shook Up, a jukebox based on music made popular by Elvis Presley, is the case that proves the point. Especially in Act 1 of San Diego Musical Theatre’s production: the jokes come fast and furiously, and the story fits the song selections well. If Act 2 tends to peter out – and it does – there’s a lot of good will left over from Act 1 to glide the show in for a smooth landing.
Book writer Joe DiPietro raises the “slight story” ante a bit by loosely basing the book on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I do mean “loosely,” as the story bears only slight resemblance to Shakespeare’s comedy. Mr. DiPietro gets the basics right though: there’s a whole bunch of characters and they’re all in love, except most are in love with the wrong person.
It’s 1955 in a nondescript Midwestern town (Mike Buckley’s scenic design fills the bill). An Elvis-like character named Chad (Jesse Bradley) turns up, fixes the jukebox that hasn’t worked in years, and all of a sudden love is in the air (actually, this development is more akin the A Midsummer Night’s Dream that it is to Twelfth Night – but I digress).
It becomes pretty clear who is supposed to be with whom, though almost everyone is pining for someone else. Natalie (Krista Feallock) is supposed to be with Chad, but she’s locked herself off in her father’s (Richard Van Slyke) auto and motorcycle repair shop. She’s doing a man’s work and even disguises herself as a man at one point (as Shakespeare has women characters do in several of his plays, including Twelfth Night). Dennis (Noah Filley) longs for Natalie to notice him, but his longings are for naught. Jim, Natalie’s dad, is a widower and longs for a bride. He’s obsessed with Miss Sandra (Sami Nye) the new, beautiful, head of the town museum. It turns out that several of the other men want to be her beau as well. Jim is neglecting to notice his friend, Sylvia (Erin Vanderhyde), who owns the diner where Chad made the jukebox come to life.
The only couple who are right for each other are the youngest ones: Dean (Brendan Dallaire) and Lorraine (Brooke Henderson). Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Dean is the son of the town Mayor (Barbara Schoenhofer), who is being trailed by Earl (Anthony J. Ballard), the town Sheriff. The Mayor is, of course, crusading to keep the town free from promiscuity, among other things.
Got all that straight? Never fear, in Act 2 the wrongly paired lovers end up with the right people. It takes a while, though, and what might have been a brisk two-hour show becomes a slower two-and-a-half-hour show.
Director Robert J. Townsend does his best to keep the pace quick and the jokes landing. And, he does build up enough good will in Act 1 to keep the audience in the game for Act 2. He even stages an “encore” of sorts for the curtain call, to remind you how much you enjoyed the energetic dancing (to Michael Mizerany’s choreography) and the Elvis songs, which are belted, Broadway style, by a cast equipped with musical theatre voices (Don LeMaster does his usual solid work as Music Director). Of course, musical theatre voices are not rock ‘n roll voices, but one forgives liberally when one is having a good time.
And, it certainly seemed that a good time was being had by all. If you want Shakespeare, head for Balboa Park and watch Barry Edelstein and cast juice up Romeo and Juliet. At the Horton Grand, there’s plenty of juice for all, and then some. But, hurry – All Shook Up closes September 1.