Jukebox musicals, shows that use preexisting songs to craft a story or revue, remain a popular staple on Broadway despite their artistic and financial unpredictability. Three weeks ago I was dazzled by the pop-friendly extravagance of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical,” a hodgepodge of Madonna, Burt Bacharach, Cyndi Lauper and Donna Summer tunes among others that could possibly receive a Best Musical Tony nomination next month. But even though “Priscilla” proved equally entertaining as still-running jukebox magnets “Jersey Boys,” “Mamma Mia!,” Million Dollar Quartet” and “Rock of Ages,” the genre has had its share of flops (“Good Vibrations,” “Lennon,” “The Look of Love,” “Ring of Fire”). In particular, Twyla Tharp won a Tony for “Movin’ Out,” but stumbled with “Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Come Fly Away.”
Presently, the Victoria Theatre Association’s Miami Valley and Good Samaritan Hospitals Broadway Series offers the local premiere of 2005’s “All Shook Up,” a comical look at a tiny, traditionalist Midwestern town circa 1954 featuring over 20 songs from the Elvis Presley repertoire. Incorporating a clever nod to “Twelfth Night,” Tony winning librettist Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “Memphis”) admirably balances the jokey silliness of the premise (a cool roustabout has his emotions tested while swiveling his way into the hearts of a conservative community) with period appropriate potency (an engaging subplot examining interracial romance). Some tunes are shoehorned better than others, a typical downside of the jukebox blueprint, but DiPietro specifically scores with the placement of “C’mon Everybody,” in which rebellious Chad (the very charismatic Brian Kess) spins the town into a colorful frenzy, and “It’s Now or Never,” a wonderfully tender moment given to lovebirds Lorraine (Caitlyn Renee) and Dean (Alex Herrera) heightened by cute, spine-tingling stagecraft from director M. Seth Reines who adapts Christopher Ashley’s original concept.
In addition, Khristy Chamberlain is delightful as Natalie Haller, a mechanic smitten with Chad who disguises herself as the macho Ed in an attempt to befriend him. Chamberlain’s endearing spunk is a plus and her belting soprano sparkles throughout “One Night With You,” the particularly feisty “A Little Less Conversation” and “Fools Fall in Love.” Powerful vocalist Brooke Aston, who brings the house down with “There’s Always Me,” is a super sassy Sylvia, Lorraine’s no-nonsense mother. Ben Martin is charming and quite comedic as Dennis, a Shakespearean devotee hopelessly in love with Natalie. The statuesque Hannah Zold is a fine fit as Miss Sandra, Chad’s object of affection who is actually head over heels for Ed. Ellen Karsten is effectively crabby, insensitive and overbearing as Mayor Matilda Hyde, Dean’s mother, and has an amiable sidekick in Ricky Pope as Sheriff Earl. Paul Crane brings humor and warmth to his portrayal of Natalie’s widowed father Jim. Muse Machine and Wright State University alum Matt Kopec is notable among the surprisingly small ensemble joyfully executing Marc Robin’s lively choreography.
Arriving on the heels of the outstanding national tour of “Avenue Q” which played the Victoria Theatre Wednesday, March 30, “All Shook Up” ultimately arises as a breezy, feel-good option ranking among the more tolerable jukebox creations.
All Shook Up, which opened Tuesday, April 5, continues through Sunday, April 17 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $39-$81. For tickets or more information, contact Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com