Elvis Presley has been repackaged, reshaped and remade into so many cultural permutations that his music can seem less important than the brand.
So it should come as no surprise that Broadway got hold of the swivel-hipped singer and produced a regrettably bland jukebox musical.
This one’s so innocuous that the familiar Presley melodies seem to dissipate even as they float from stage to ear, as if they’re background tunes hanging like a weak fog in your dentist’s office as you wait for the next chance to swish.
Such is the impact of “All Shook Up,” the Elvis revue being valiantly staged by Good Company Players in a production that is better than the show itself.
Co-directors Elizabeth Fiester and Steve Souza manage to invigorate the musical with some laughs and a tame, lazy-summer appeal, thanks to some vigorous performances and choreography. But any charms are mostly due to an elaborate, self-aware cuteness that awards the audience member who is willing to say: “Aww, that’s cute.”
This is the kind of glossy fable in which characters fall in love at first sight not within a song but within a beat before a mere phrase of that song (“One Night With You,” used as a recurring gag).
Juan Danner is Chad, the Elvis-like character who drifts into a no-fun 1955 small town determined to stir things up. With his relentless cheer, Chad is less a growly, sexy, boundary-pushing roustabout than an earnest missionary of self-enlightenment spreading love and togetherness. When by comparison you make the lead character in the squeaky-clean “Footloose” seem like a mama-terrifying bad boy, you know you’re pretty harmless.
Danner has a lovely voice, nice dance moves (the lively choreography is by Souza) and a winning smile, but under Fiester and Souza’s direction he is about as rebellious as a lunchtime meeting of Young Republicans.
Like just about everything else potentially naughty in this stiff, shrink-wrapped show, any sex appeal has been drained away.
Joe DiPietro, who wrote the book, uses the plot of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as a loose inspiration, which means we get a plot thread involving a tomboy mechanic, Natalie (a lively and versatile Kindle Cowger), who falls for Chad and resorts to cross-dressing to get closer to him.
Other love entanglements abound, participants in which include the resident town nerd (a standout Jesse McCoy, who is able to give some real heft to his character), the intellectual museum director (a funny Brianne Janae Vogt, who has the sass and presence of a Tina Fey), a moralistic mayor (Jacquie Broach), hapless widower (C.J. Dion) and cowering military school student (Jonathan Wheeler).
Through it all the residents of the town seem to be genetically programmed to tromp into the street for group numbers, taking up rigid formations and blaring out peppy harmonies to such Elvis tunes as “It’s Now or Never” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” (It must be something in the water.) The first time it’s kind of rousing. The third time they plant their feet and belt out hymn-like versions of the King, not so much.
That said, the solo vocals are mostly strong, particularly from Camille Gaston as a young black woman who falls for the white military student, and Teresa Gipson, who belts out “There’s Always Me,” as a bar owner with an eye on the widower. And a robust chorus trio (Kirstin Bangs, Imani Branch and Leah Ghermay) delivers sly commentary along the way.
“All Shook Up” wants to have an earnest, old-fashioned charm (the perky period costumes, including the requisite blue suede shoes, are by Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed, the cartoon-cheery sets are by David Pierce, and the sunny-bouncy lighting design is by Evan Commins and Brandi Martin). But it also wants a contemporary vibe in terms of a progressive political outlook. There’s a nice, positive message about race relations.
But shaking things up? Hardly. Even at its brassy-brightest best, at most “All Shook Up” barely rattles the Richter scale.
Pictured: Juan Danner in “All Shook Up.” Fresno Bee photo by Silvia Flores.
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