Regional Reviews: San Diego
Following his release from prison for a minor crime, the rebellious roustabout Chad (Jesse Bradley) finds himself in a town run by the conservative Mayor Hyde (Barbara Schoenhofer), who has banned loud music and necking. Chad convinces the townspeople to express themselves, including the nice mechanic Natalie (Krista Feallock) who falls for him. Although Natalie's close and nerdy friend Dennis (Noah Filley) has romantic feelings for her, she becomes upset when Chad develops a crush on the local museum caretaker, Miss Sandra (Sami Nye).
The different relationships spin out of control, and Joe DiPietro's writing cleverly reflects this by mixing farcical humor with Elvis songs. A memorable aspect of this is the recurring use of "One Night" whenever a character falls in love. DiPietro uses jokes to help develop the romantic entanglements, and pokes fun at both Chad's defiant personality and Hyde's more conservative views. There is one plotline in act one that's not as effective. It involves Hyde's son Dean (Brendan Dallaire), who begins an affair with a black teenager named Lorraine (Brooke Henderson). While their relationship might be DiPietro's way of referencing Shakespeare's use of forbidden romance in his works, some of the scenes, including the use of "It's Now or Never," feel a bit too melodramatic compared to the generally comical tone of the rest of the show. Dallaire and Henderson, however, do have a strong rapport through their singing and acting, and their relationship does begin to feel more natural and becomes more entertaining after the intermission.
Robert J. Townsend, in his directorial debut at the Horton Grand Theatre, maintains a light tone throughout the performance and lets the audience know early on that they are in for a good time with his staging of "Jailhouse Rock." To his credit, he doesn't treat the material like a simple Elvis tribute, and he gets theatregoers to enjoy spending time with the funny and generally kindhearted people who inhabit the Midwest town. Similarly, choreographer Michael Mizerany doesn't just create moves that reference the singer. His staging uses clever visual humor and includes "Let Yourself Go," a musical number with singing statues, and a version of "A little Less Conversation" which relies on dramatic irony reminiscent of Shakespeare. Just as crucial to the production are Mike Buckley's scenic design and Janet Pitcher's costumes, which create an intentionally fairy tale-esque depiction of the 1950s. This is enhanced by Michelle Miles' lighting, which is often used to represent the romantic feelings of the characters. The sound design by Jon Fredette did have some noticeable technical issues on opening night, but most of the performances and the lyrics were crystal clear and enjoyable.
As the two leads, Bradley and Feallock are well-matched, with strong singing voices and excellent comedic timing. They bring a lot of personality to their roles and are very amusing in their reactions to the increasingly bizarre situations that occur in the plot. Filley, Nye and Schoenhofer are equally entertaining. Even though the script isn't meant to be very serious, there are two moving performances from Richard Van Slyke as Natalie's widower father Jim and Erin Vanderhyde as Sylvia, the owner of a honky-tonk. Slyke has a few touching moments when Jim is thinking about his deceased wife and bonds with his daughter, and Vanderhyde gives a powerful and beautifully sung rendition of the love song, "There's Always Me."
Backing the performers up is the orchestra led by music director Don LeMaster. They are responsible for lending a classic rock and roll sound to the iconic Elvis songs such "Don't Be Cruel" and "Burning Love."
With both famous and some lesser-known Elvis tunes mixed in, All Shook Up is tribute to the complications of love. Townsend, cast, and crew deliver an enjoyable escapist production that's perfectly timed for the summer.
All Shook Up, through September 1, 2019, at San Diego Musical Theatre, Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave, San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $30.00 and be purchased online at www.sdmt.org or by phone at 858-560-5740.