Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wetumpka Depot: "All Shook Up"

Fresh from representing the Southeastern United States at the "American Association of Community Theatres" National Festival in Rochester, NY with their highly praised production of Second Samuel, the Wetumpka Depot Players are currently showing All Shook Up, a lighthearted tribute to Elvis Presley, with nods to William Shakespeare [see: Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It], John Waters' Hairspray, Mel Brooks' The Producers, tv's Happy Days, Grease, and every 1950s Rock & Roll romance.

With a limited Broadway success a few years ago, Joe DiPietro's script weaves some 25 songs made famous by "the King" into a pleasantly diverting entertainment.

Director Kristy Meanor deftly guides her 10 principal characters and large ensemble cast through the play's 19 scenes over 2 acts, that tell the story of Chad [Bradley Moon], a motorcycle-riding roustabout lady-killer [who breaks into song at the drop of a comb], and his impact on a small town.

Though he captures the hearts of virtually every young woman in the town, the most smitten is Natalie [Sarah Eckermann], a grease-monkey in her father Jim's [Tom Salter] garage, who resorts to disguising herself as a man she calls "Ed" in order to become Chad's trusted sidekick.

Natalie has another suitor in Dennis [Jeff Langham's comic timing helps him turn in a heartbreakingly funny characterization of a loveable "innocent" whose eventual blossoming garners cheers from the audience].

And her disguise and essential goodness make 'her/him' attractive to Sandra [Sonjha Cannon], a seductive Amazon who owns a local museum, and provokes one of a number of gender-confused relationships -- another one when Chad reluctantly and awkwardly falls for "Ed".

Chad influences the men in town too. Dennis and Jim both emulate his biker swagger and black leather costume, helping make them attractive respectively to Sandra and Sylvia [Shelley Williams -- the no-nonsense African-American proprietor of a local honky-tonk].

When Sylvia's daughter Lorraine [newcomer Taylor Finch is one to watch] falls for Dean [Matthew Walter], the son of the mayor Matilda [Sally Blackwell], whose self-righteous bullying makes her a character we love to hate, the more serious overtones on interracial marriage come to the fore through these likeable teenagers' adolescent yearnings.

Key to all this is DiPietro's clever use of Elvis' songs [all performed without microphones] to develop character and further the plot, whether to establish Chad's rebellious nature with "Jailhouse Rock", or Dennis' true feelings with "It Hurts Me", or Sylvia's passionate rendering of "There's Always Me", or to encourage Natalie with "Follow That Dream", or for Dean and Lorraine to risk social censure with "It's Now Or Never", or just fine ensemble singing of "Can't Help Falling In Love".

And it is to everyone's credit that these recognizable archetypes take on a degree of truthfulness that allows us to connect with their frustrations, challenges, and honest emotions.

Central to it all is Chad, and here Mr. Moon has found his "inner Elvis", his dark good looks, self-assured manner, swivelling hips, and confidently strong singing make his performance a stand-out; yet, he is also very much an ensemble actor who shares the stage attention generously with the rest of this talented company.