All Shook Up at Community Players: Escape from Heartbreak Hotel

All Shook Up by Community Players at Jenks Auditorium, Pawtucket: Tyler Rebello (center) as the “roustabout” Chad and the cast.

All Shook Up by Community Players at Jenks Auditorium, Pawtucket: Tyler Rebello (center) as the “roustabout” Chad and the cast.

Set during “a 24-hour period, during the summer of 1955” in “a small you-never-heard-of-it town somewhere in the Midwest,” All Shook Up is a jukebox musical based on recognizable and familiar songs from the Elvis Presley era that is ideal for a fun date night. It’s a light-hearted, upbeat story of small-town romance that plays just right against a good selection of nostalgic music that defined the Eisenhower decade.

The somewhat thin plot is an obvious homage to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (among other  plays, including As You Like It), with a character pretending to be the opposite sex and a final resolution that can be seen coming from a mile away, but the audience for this is really looking for music rather than plot, anyway. The opening song is “Jailhouse Rock, led by “Chad” (Tyler Rebello) as he is being released from a week in prison that, the warden hopes, taught him a lesson. Chad is a “roustabout” who travels on his motorcycle with a guitar slung across his back, going from place to place picking up odd jobs and then moving on. The townspeople lament their loneliness from lack of love and excitement, singing “Heartbreak Hotel” in the honky-tonk bar run by “Slyvia” (Michelle Schmitt), a single mother raising her teenage daughter “Lorraine” (Kayla Leffort). In need of repairs to his bike, Chad finds “Natalie” (Dalita Getzoyan), a tomboy who works as a skilled mechanic in the shop of her father “Jim” (Ed Carusi) where she has been spending all of her time since the death of her mother (and Jim’s wife) three years earlier. One of the singers in “Heartbreak Hotel” is “Dennis” (Christopher Margadonna), who has romantic feelings for Natalie that she does not return, although they have been best friends since childhood. Natalie instantly falls for Chad, the intriguing out-of-towner clad in black leather and, of course, “Blue Suede Shoes,” singing “One Night with You” (a recurring motif in the show), but he does not return her affections, repeatedly fending her off with the warning, “I’ve been with a lot of women. A lot of women.

One of the reasons for the dullness in the town is that “Mayor Matilda Hyde” (Donna Marie Gorham) has banned music, dancing, and any kind of fun, enacting the “Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act.” (That’s something of an obscure but unfair joke: the real-life first lady during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower suffered from Ménière’s disease, a medical disability of the inner ear that interferes with balance and hearing, so her well-known avoidance of music and dancing was entirely personal, not philosophical or cultural.) The ban is enforced by “Sheriff Earl” (Carlos Arenas), who follows the mayor around but is shushed by her every time he tried to say anything. The mayor is also a single mother raising “Dean” (Marcus Evans), sending him off to military boarding school despite being a very obedient boy who goes out of his way to please his mother. Unsurprisingly, Dean and Lorraine meet and fall in love, knowing that each of their mothers will disapprove of the other.

The particular incarnation from the Community Players at Jenks Auditorium in Pawtucket features some outstanding vocalists, especially Katie Kleyla as “Miss Sandra,” the curator of the local art museum, whose rendition of “Let Yourself Go” is a show-stopper, performed with members of the ensemble posing as statues in the museum, as well as “Teddy Bear/Hound Dog,” performed with Rebello as Chad. Rebello and Getzoyan have some great songs, too, paired up for “Follow That Dream” and especially “Love Me Tender.” Vocals from Leffort as Lorraine were noteworthy on “Heartbreak Hotel” and especially “It’s Now or Never,” and she played a convincing teenager despite being obviously older than the character.

Some musical numbers employed the ensemble (Malique Jelks, Rick Koster, Michael McCabe, Tammy Mulrooney, Stephanie Post, Harrie Salk, David Schillinger, Sarah Stern, Jessica Still, Lisa Taylor, Jermaine Whitehead-Bailey) cleverly, notably “Devil in Disguise” by Gorham as the mayor accompanied by members of the ensemble costumed as “angelettes” and Rebello as Chad accompanied by members of the ensemble costumed as “devilettes,” with Pamela Jackson credited as costume designer. The choreography by Julia Gillis was entertaining and ambitious, with a lot of group synchronization routines that always make the dancers look good. The band (Ron Procopio conducting and on keyboard, David Pirri on trumpet, Ronald “RJ” Procopio on guitar, Keith Udelson on bass, and Ryan “Buddy” Procopio on percussion) was excellent, playing at a volume that allowed all of the dialogue on stage to be heard clearly, a remarkable accomplishment with modern musicals.

This Community Players production of All Shook Up features some superb singing, good music, solid acting, and a passable script. It’s a great value for an evening out by couples who remember or at least know these songs.

All Shook Up, inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presley, book by Joe DiPietro, directed by Sandy Cerel and musical direction by Ron Procopio, performed by the Community Players at Jenks Auditorium, 350 Division St, Pawtucket. Through May 19. About 2h45m including 15m intermission. Refreshments available. Free parking, handicap accessible. Box office: 401-726-6860. E-mail: info@thecommunityplayers.org Web: thecommunityplayers.net Tickets: app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=tcpri Facebook: facebook.com/events/341188433406693

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