“All Shook Up,” an electric experience at Pec.
By Sue Langenberg
September at Pec Playhouse Theatre saw a wonderful production of “All Shook Up,” to many sold out crowds.
As a show, “All Shook Up” is much more than Graceland, Elvis and all that hip gyrating of the ‘50s. The plot thickens to Shakespearean yore somewhere around 1602 when comedy “Twelfth Night” threw characters and mistaken identities at each other. The feverish fervor of love between perceived misfits crossed all lines of color, gender and rigid rules; Shakespeare indeed laughs at all of us with human nature at its worst.
Fast forwarded to 2004 and adapted from the book by Joe Dipietro, the idea remains that “Fools Fall in Love,” a favorite Shakespearean joke against us all. Then, “Twelfth Night” magically morphs back to 1955 somewhere boring in the Midwest. Oh. And throw in a panorama of Elvis songs to complete the plot and subplots so indeed, “Fools Fall in Love.” Shakespeare is still laughing, as did many sold out houses in September at PPT.
It takes a good director to bring out the fearlessness in any cast, and guest director/choreographer Andrew Mahan did just that at PPT. One could imagine how rousing his rehearsals by the electricity that gushed forth beyond the footlights. Mahan apparently communicated that keen sense of impeccable timing and the cartoonish “whiz” factor of Shakespearean plays. His cartoonish visuals were also expressed through his set design. Mahan has been a Greater Rockford/Chicago professional for some 20 years as singer, dancer, choreographer, teacher and all phases of performance to bring this specialized experience to PPT.
By Mahan’s artistic side for this production was his mother, Ellen as musical director who took the vocal ensemble to great heights, especially at the closing of the first act where, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was everyone’s climactic yearning along the way of carnal dysfunctions in the name of “Love Me Tender,” “It’s Now or Never” and “Follow That Dream.”
Roustabout actor Scott Lawson made his grand entrance as the role of leather-jacketed Chad on a motorcycle, slick with all the rough edges necessary for swooning women. He was most convincing as the ultimate womanizer out to break all the rigid rules against the town’s dancing, music, tight pants and (horrors) necking.
As key character Natalie, Megan Mahan was a perfect fit for the role as the diamond in the rough female, yet easily versatile in disguise as a male. Her antics were alongside Thomas Luna as Dennis, who pines endlessly for Natalie as expressed well in “It Hurts Me.”
Most professionally solid was the work of Michelle Gotfred as museum director Sandra. Her ease of performance and stage presence, whether comic or dramatic was a well-cast asset to the show. Other memorable vocal moments were “There’s Always Me” by Tisha Clements as Sylvia and strong actress Julia Whitcomb as Lorraine in “If I Can Dream.”
Costumes by Barb Clay and Karen Guler were appropriately and convincingly unflattering from gaudy pleats to ugly saddle shoes, and testament of the era.
Town rules frump Matilda was aptly played by Celsey Weires alongside a mostly mute Sheriff Earl by Matt Dodd. Mike Freeze as Jim and Thomas Swagger as Dean Hyde rounded out the misfits of love in “Don’t Be Cruel” and “It’s Now or Never.” There were Tri-tones James Castree and Todd Hilliard in “Blue Suede Shoes.” Rockababes Alexandria De Young, Laura Dougherty, Karlee Kallenbach and Stephanie Whitmire oozed the jazzy innocence of the era along with dancers Jessica Barkdoll and Annette De Young.
Great show at PPT; We are still laughing with Shakespeare.