Question: Mix William Shakespeare, The Bard of Avon, and Elvis Presley The King of Rockn Roll, and what do you get?
The correct answer is: The 2005 juke box musical “All Shook Up.”
My answer is: The best production (so far) of the Wagon Wheel Theatre’s 2018 summer season.
“All Shook Up” opened Wednesday evening at the Warsaw theater-in-the-round and, from the opening notes of “Jailhouse Rock,” set toes tapping and spread smiles throughout the enthusiastic audience.
It’s almost impossible to sit still when the talented cast dives into the familiar melodies around which (as in any good juke box musical) book writer Joe Dipietro has woven the story of a leather-jacketed “Roustabout” on a motorcycle who stops in a small mid-western town for repairs and ends up “repairing” the hearts and minds of the sadly repressed citizenry.
“All Shook Up” benefits greatly from the always-amazing choreography, with most every number an explosion of color and wild-but-sharply-executed ensemble dances — which is a trademark of director/choreographer Scott Michaels.
In the talented 2018 company, singers and dancers who earn well-deserved applause (and more than a few cheers) are not only the principal players but also those who make up the ensemble.
The plotline (“inspired by” Shakespeare’s comedic “12thNight”) circles around eight love-struck (“One Night With You”) individuals, all of whom are determined to be with their totally wrong romantic choices. How the songs of the late great Elvis help them all — sometimes at length, sometimes instantly, but always eventually — is what makes “All Shook Up” two and a half hours (including intermission and announcements) of solid fun — even if you were never a fan of The King.
In this production, every note is the right one!
Logan Foster is spot-on as Chad, the leather-jacketed, guitar-playing cyclist who jolts the residents (“Heartbreak Hotel”) out of their respective depressions and urges them (“C’Mon Everybody”) to “Follow That Dream.” His portrayal solidly recalls the hip-swiveling idol with the marshmallow voice without being an over-exaggerated imitation.
The object of his affection (“One Night With You” — the song each would-be lover sings at first sight of his/her wrong romantic choice ) is Miss Sandra (Juliette Redden ), who owns the local museum and immediately rejects his advances.
She is instantly smitten with Ed (mechanic Natalie Haller in a greased-up disguise). Natalie (Cassidy Hamilton) has fallen for Chad and doesn’t realize that her good friend Dennis (Nick Case in a scene stealing performance!) has a crush on her.
Meanwhile, back at Sylvia’s Honky Tonk, Natalie’s widowed dad Jim (Michael Yocum) also falls instantly for Miss Sandra, not seeing that Sylvia (De’Jah Jervai) wants to be more than just his friend.
Then there are Sylvia’s daughter Loraine (Leanne Antonio) who has connected with Dean Hyde (Ian Laudano), son of Mayor Matilda Hyde (Jennifer Dow giving new meaning to controlling frump), who is followed silently by soap box-carrying Sheriff Earl (Andy Robinson), a man of few-or-no words until —— but no more spoilers.
Watching the mis-matched couples become matched is fun in itself, but hearing them re-attach to the wonderfully familiar music of Elvis is the banana on this peanut butter sandwich.
There is not a less-than-excellent voice among the principals and watching/hearing the ensemble will take your breath away even as you wonder where they get theirs.
The pacing is solid, with never a moment dragging and, of course, the impressive 10-piece orchestra, under the direction of conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling, is an integral part of the smooth production.
The visual impact of this “All Shook Up” is exacerbated by the colorful splashes of the memory-enhancing. costumes by Stephen N. Hollenbeck and the scenic design by David Lepor. It is definitely elaborate for Wagon Wheel, but certainly sets the many locations in town and, for act two, in an abandoned fair grounds.
All have the proper atmosphere, all are beautifully lit by lighting designer Anthony Forchelli.
So, in the words of both “All Shook Up” poets:Put on your “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Let Yourself Go” because “It’s Now or Never” and you don’t want to wind up being “fortune’s fool!”
“ALL SHOOK UP” plays through Jujy 21 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre at 2517 E. Center St., in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www..wagonwheelcenter.org