by Terrance Mc Arthur
Elvis Presley was the King of Rock-and-Roll, charting 149 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, with 18 #1 hits. Imagine making a musical out of nothing but Elvis songs, with some plots from Shakespeare thrown into the mix, and you’d have the Good Company Players’ production of All Shook Up: the Elvis Presley Musical, now playing at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre through September 13.
Many of the hits are there: “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog,” ”Jailhouse Rock,” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and “All Shook Up.” Some of the songs may not be as familiar: “C’mon Everybody,” “It Hurts Me,” and “There’s Always Me.” All the songs are sung with gusto by an enthusiastic cast.
When Chad (Juan Danner) gets out of prison, he gets his motorcycle fixed by Natalie (Kindle Cowger), who falls for him, ignoring her bashful, faithful, nerdish friend Dennis (Jesse McCoy). Chad falls for the museum director (Brianne Janae Vogt), who sees him as uncouth. To get Chad’s attention, Natalie disguises herself as a guy, Ed, and starts some strange feelings in Chad. Meanwhile, Dean (Jonathan Wheeler), son of the anti-fun Mayor (Jacquie Broach), falls for Lorraine (Camille Gaston), daughter of the malt-shop/bar owner (Teresa Gipson). There’s a lot of mistaken identity, forbidden romance, and mixed-up love matches, but everything works out all right, because it’s an Elvis musical (but without Elvis), by way of Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (without the love potion from a flower), and Twelfth Night.
The play deals so much with changes and transformations, it is interesting to make note of the changes made by some cast members.
Danner shifts from Fagin in GCP’s Oliver! to a street-confident roustabout with no grinding of gears. His confident swagger and smoldering sensuality combine Elvis, Conrad Birdie, and Fonzie, and he sings with power and a touch of self-mockery.
Cowger was sexy and sleazy in Fresno State’s Cabaret; now, she’s a naïve grease monkey and tomboy, but possessed of a life-altering voice. When she adopts male mannerisms, she matches Danner strut for strut.
Gaston may be bubbly and light in real life, but she gets down to the business at hand when she steps on stage with a commanding presence that reminds me of when I first saw Audra McDonald.
Broach was a much-married, wild-and-crazy character in 2nd Space’s Always a Bridesmaid. Here, she is a vengeful conservative with a secret, trying to stop necking, loud music, and carrying on, but she does get a few songs that let her get down and dirty. She’s delightful, like The Church Lady with “desires.”
McCoy played Chad in an earlier GCP production of the show, so he shifts from rock-and-roller to wannabe sidekick. He’s cocky in a goofy way. Wheeler is non-threatening in his cadet uniform, but there is an earnestness in his characterization. Vogt gets to be the gorgeous/brilliant woman hiding behind glasses. What fun for an actor, and she makes the most of the possibilities.
Teresa Gibson is the crusty lady with a knack for giving good advice to people who don’t want to listen to it, and the loving mother who cares and worries.
Kirstin Bangs, Imani Branch, and Leah Gherman are The Trio, the back-up singers to many of the songs, somewhere between Sadé and a Robert Palmer music video. Stunning! Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed costumes them in loving exaggeration of 50’s styles, and she manages to give each actor on stage their own look. Jennifer Martinez and Brad Money have the high-stakes job of the evening, trying to frame characters in a follow spot at the turn of an emotion.
If you’re an Elvis fan, you’ll hear the good old songs sung well. If you’re not an Elvis fan, you’ll enjoy Joe DiPietro’s silly plot that borrows from The King’s movies and William Shakespeare. If you’re human, you’ll have fun.
In honor of Elvis the Pelvis, the Junior Company pre-show features songs about body parts, from cheeks to hands, to achy-breaky hearts.
Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre is at 1226 N Wishon Ave. For more information, call (559) 266-9494 or go to gcplayers.com.
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