The 35th Anniversary Summer Season of Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre bolted to a rousing start with a high energy musical inspired by William Shakespeare’s, “Twelfth Night”, the music and lyrics of Elvis Presley, and based on a book by Joe DiPietro. This musical, directed and choreographed by Charlie Williams, along with musical director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda, had the audience finger snapping, clapping, moving and laughing all evening to this intertwined love story.
Photography by Ken Jacques
The story line follows a guitar-playing, hip-gyrating roustabout who arrives into a quiet Midwestern town in the 1950’s and proceeds to bring the magic and passion of rock and roll music into the lives of the residents. As this happens, town’s people began to open up about their feelings of love for various people, only it seems they are mixed up about who they are really in love with. Throw in an attempt to disguise ones sex to become closer to another person, inter-racial relationships, friendships turning into love, falling for someone out of your “class” and on top of this use the music of Elvis and you have a musical that had everyone ready to sing along all evening.
“All Shook Up” was originally part of the Goodspeed musicals in 2004. It premiered on Broadway at the Palace theatre on March 2, 2005 for a short run. The musical won the Theatre World Award for Best Musical in 2005.
The lead, Chad, was played by Michael James Byrne, and he had the hip-swiveling, pelvic gyrating of Elvis “spot on”. According to my wife, who saw Elvis perform live on 4 occasions, including one of his early performance on the USS Hancock in 1957 as part of the Ed Sullivan Show in front of a small crowd, Michael James Byrne must have watched hours of Elvis footage as he had his moves down. This was his Moonlight debut. This, along with a great voice and comic flair, made his performance memorable. He was supported by an outstanding cast that, according to this reviewer, seemed to fit their characters perfectly. Chad’s love interest, Natalie, was played by Katharine McDonough; her father, Jim, played by Todd Nielsen; bar owner Sylvia played by Vonetta Mixson; her daughter, Lorraine played by Yvonne; Natalie’s best friend, Dennis, played by Jake Saenz; the town’s mayor, Matilada Hyde, played by Tracy Lore; her son, Dean, played by Nick Eiter; town librarian, Miss Sandra, played by Christine Hewitt and the town’s sheriff, Earl, played by Bob Himlin. All of these characters would find themselves in and out of love with different people throughout the musical.
We knew we were in for a rousing evening from the moment the curtain went up and the cast, led by Chad, sang and danced to “Jailhouse Rock”. Director Charlie Williams, Lighting Designer Jean-Yves Tessier and Music Director Lyndon Pugeda did an amazing job of incorporating clever lighting techniques and motion-freezing the actors that would lead into an Elvis song appropriate for that character’s feelings at that moment. Throughout the musical, Elvis’s music would be presented in a variety of interpretations other than in their original form. This was especially true for the song, “Heartbreak Hotel”, sung by Sylvia’s barflies. A very clever use of “Teddy Bear” and “Hound Dog”, as Chad and Sandra battle through their feelings, was an example of how the music of Elvis was used to show conflicting feelings. One especially unforgettable number was, “Let Yourself Go”, sung by Miss Sandra, in the library garden with statues that came to life and broke into song and dance. Initially, it has a Pageant of the Masters feel to it with the statue actors holding their pose for quite some time before they broke into song and dance. The final song of Act 1, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, one of Elvis’s most popular songs, was a powerful ending to the first half of the musical.
This song would appear again toward the end of the musical, this time sung by Earl, Matilda, Jim and Sylvia, as the various relationships began to figure themselves out and each of the leads discovered who they were really in love with. A multiple wedding would end the musical, and the final Elvis number for the wedding scene would sum up the growing love each of the main characters had developed, “Burning Love”.
One of the more interesting parts of this comic musical, was the no-so-comic social attitudes that were touched on that existed in the ‘50’s; such as the older generations unacceptance of Rock n’ Roll music; the general unacceptance of inter-racial relationships, and the attempt to control the moral behaviors of young people. This last part was shown using the town mayor, Matilda Hyde, and her establishment of the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act, with rules like no public necking. The mayor told the townspeople she was the moral compass of the town. Chad was portrayed as a Rock n’ Roll, non-religious evangelist, who simply wanted to spread love through dance and music. All of these issues would be handled in a light hearted manner and ended with happy endings. After all, this was a musical comedy.
I would be remise if I did not mention the outstanding job the ensemble did with the high energy dance routines in this musical. I know the cast is in tip-top shape, but I can’t help but think they must be exhausted after their final number. Even when the musical was over and bows taken, the cast does one final number and encourages the audience to join in.
“All Shook Up” runs through June 27th with ticket prices ranging from $24 – $52. The musical begins at 8pm and many of the attendees bring in picnic dinners or eat at the Moonlight’s Artisan Café, operated by Chef David Krohn. The menu and ticket reservations can be found at www.moonlightstage.com. The Box Office phone number is 760-724-2110.
This is a great way to spend a summer evening and enjoy tremendous music and dance. Grab your leather jackets and head to Moonlight and get “All Shook Up”.