Arts » Theater

Shaking Off the Dust

Mercury Summer Stock brings a bland Elvis-based musical to life


Let's be brutally frank: There is absolutely nothing original or even faintly fresh in the script or songs of All Shook Up, the patched together Elvis Presley/jukebox musical now at Mercury Summer Stock.

Even so, you'd best stifle that yawn.

That's because the production itself is thoroughly engaging, thanks to detailed direction and choreography by Pierre-Jacques Brault and more than a few winning performances. If we could all construct glistening silk purses from such questionable material, there'd be a citywide run on sow's ears.

The title makes it clear that this work is about the Elvis ouevre, with many of his signature songs represented. And there are enough pelvic thrusts, hip swivels, and lip curls to recall Presley's heyday as a sexual outlaw.

But Elvis himself never appears. Instead, his avatar is Chad, a young guitar-plucking roustabout whose motorcycle breaks down in a small town. Soon, he's insinuating himself among the local rubes — especially grease-stained Natalie, who is the only cycle mechanic nearby.

She is smitten instantly, but Chad only has eyes for the statuesque and intellectual Miss Sandra who runs the art museum. And as passions fly in different directions, Cupid's arrows pierce plenty of bystanders. Natalie is even compelled to don male drag, just to get close to her heartthrob.

All this romantic folderol might remind you of something from a famous dead playwright, and you'd be right: The book by Joe Pietro is based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. But in keeping with the overall lack of originality, even this is not a new thrust. The identical mistaken-identity, gender-bending notion was trotted out almost 50 years ago in the rock musical Your Own Thing.

Faced with all that familiarity, it is incumbent upon the company to bring this limp assemblage to life. Fortunately, when they are on their game, this is what the Mercury crew does best. This time, every role is filled with performers who have a fix on their characters — and they mesh like the components of a well-oiled Harley.

As the guitar-strumming testosterone bomb, Matthew Roscoe is a capable crooner and a sultry charmer when wooing the townie chicks. But he's even better when faced with the bewildering trajectory of his own sexual identity when he falls for Ed — who's actually the cross-dressed Natalie.

Dani Apple is sweetly unaffected as Natalie and butches it up cutely as Ed, singing her songs with skill and focus. Dana Aber's Miss Sandra is a pneumatically pleasing blonde, and when she also swoons for Ed, the absurd fun peaks.

Along the way, other love matches are forged — including two interracial ones. Natalie's dad Jim (Dan DiCello) and African-American honky-tonk owner Sylvia (Kelvette Beacham) hook up while Sylvia's daughter Lorraine (Lauryn Alexandria Hobbs) locks eyes with Dean (Jesse Markowitz), the military-school son of morality scold and town mayor Matilda (Kathleen Caldwell).

Each of the above actors fashions a distinct character out of the predictable script, along with the songs — like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog" — that we've all heard a million times. While none of the voices are great, they're all more than serviceable — which is all this campy show requires.

Even the running joke works. As each love spark is ignited, the affected participant breaks into a verse of "One Night With You." It's the song a slim and sensuous EP made famous in his 1968 "comeback special" on TV.

True to the borrowed Shakespearian infrastructure, everyone in this rom-com is paired off in a concluding wedding scene. Even the town's hapless "weird little man" Dennis (Brian Marshall), who had been chasing a thoroughly disinterested Natalie, winds up in the arms of a special someone.

Performed with infectious energy and backed by an ensemble of 19 singers and dancers, this Mercury Summer Stock production is a cool breeze on a sweltering August day.


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