‘All Shook Up’ at Rockville Musical Theatre by Amanda Gunther


A well I bless my soul what’s wrong with me? I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree! My friends say I’m acting wild as a bug — and it’s because of Rockville Musical Theatre’s production of All Shook Up! Directed by Duane Monahan with musical direction by Marci Shegogue, the legendary rock n’ roll music of Elvis Presley leaps to life in this inspiring upbeat tale of love and life that rolls through some sleepy little town you’ve never heard of in the Midwest during the summer of 1955. A fun-loving adventure with sensational singing, dynamite dancing, and a fantastic cast; this musical will have you melting like a hot hunk of burning love!

Choreographer Jeremy A. McShan really slips on his blue suede shoes and gets into the hoppin’ boppin’ rhythm of the 1950’s with his wildly energetic dance routines. Laying all the right moves to roustabout Chad — from the pelvic swivel to the disjointed knee-swings, McShan packs a punch into the Elvis-like character. And his large enthusiastic ensemble numbers have that jivin’ happenin’ feel of the 50’s; especially during numbers like “Jailhouse Rock” where the whole cellblock gets to shaking with the shimmy of the song. And “C’mon Everybody” has that stupendous synchronization with a ton of fun-loving air-guitar gestures and full body spins. McShan really knows how to shake things up with his intensive routines and full use of the space.

Even if I drew you a map you’d probably still end up at the Heartbreak Hotel, but not because the ensemble broke you down. Simply put this one of the most powerful and energetically animated group of singing dancing performers I’ve seen in quite a while. With nine posh performers comprising the Dance Ensemble (Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Julia Donato, Stephanie Berdini Finkenstaedt, Dana Herson, Christa Kronser, Paul Loebach, Heather McElwain, Hayley North, and Hark Tagunicar) we see even more of McShan’s great work in practice during numbers like “Let Yourself Go” where we get some of these lovely folks dancing back-up as the statues in the museum.

And then there is “Devil in Disguise” where the female dancers become the Devilettes and sashay their saucy tails all about the stage. Keep your ears open in this number for Mayor Matilda Hyde (Cathy McCoskey) who breaks out of her Mamie Eisenhower decency routine for one moment to go ‘holier-than-thou’ hog wild upon Chad and his devil girls; it’s quite the entertaining and uplifting moment of the evening.

The voices that are found in this production are nothing short of stellar. Despite the constant microphone drops many of the principle performers can be heard loud and clear over the live orchestra (conducted with brilliance by Marci Shegogue). Two such powerful voices come from the pair that finds love at first sight right from the beginning, Lorraine (Avia Fields) and Dean (Aaron Lempert) have voices filled purely with love. In their bittersweet duet “It’s Now or Never” they ooze that sickeningly sweet sentiment of puppy love that blends right into the tragic departure of love that was cut short too soon.

Fields gets many more moments to shine, especially when facing off against her mother Sylvia (Ivana Alexander) during “That’s All Right.” It becomes an epic battle of who can be sassier and louder between the pair, with a dead draw between them by the end of the song. Alexander belts out her beautiful voice in “Heartbreak Hotel” and shows us a more subtle but still equally as powerful emotional sound in her solo “There’s Always Me.” Alexander provides a fresh bold take on the single-mother character type and really stirs up a world of trouble when she realizes she just might be in love with one of her closest friends.

Every good love story has a triangle. This one has a polygon of love related mess, see if you can keep up. Dennis, town dork, loves Natalie, town’s junior grease monkey. But Natalie loves the rough-ridin’ roustabout, Chad, who just rode in— and he’s in love with the town museum keeper, Miss Sandra. Turns out she’s in love with Ed (a rough-ridin’ roustabout that’s really Natalie in disguise trying to impress Chad.) Complicate this one hair more by noting that Natalie’s father, Jim, is in love with the very same Miss Sandra as Chad while the town’s Honkytonk owner, Sylvia, is in love with Jim. If you kept that straight, hearing about how amazing they are will be easy.

Dennis (Mark Hamberger) lives up his nerdiness to extremes. Ever the doting dork, Hamberger really fawns over Natalie, however silently, getting a good surprisingly boisterous sound out during “Heartbreak Hotel.” And there’s a soul-searing crooner’s cry to be had during his solo “It Hurts Me,” where that heartache comes pouring out in waves.

Miss Sandra (Lee Rosenthal) causes quite the commotion with her immediate rejection of Chad’s swanky charm. Rosenthal has a fiery charisma uniquely her own; like a librarian repressed under a world of knowledge that just erupts into song both during “Hound Dog” and with her sultry and scintillating rendition of “Let Yourself Go.” Rosenthal has great deflective chemistry against Chad, with equally reactive lust toward Ed.

But the dynamic duo of the show; the super singing stars are found in Natalie (Ivanna Barrientos) and Chad (Tim Adams). Having all the swagger and charm of an Elvis-like renegade Adams embodies rock ‘n roll physically, emotionally, and vocally throughout the entire performance. During “Don’t Be Cruel” he attempts to teach his wily ways to Jim (Brad Carnes-Stine) creating a great moment of hilarity as the town mechanic tries to learn the moves of a rogue like Chad. His voice is on the level of perfection when it comes to vocal clarity intonation and projection. Adams wails out “Blue Suede Shoes” like he’s channeling The King and has a sound clear as a church bell on Sunday morning when singing “Follow that Dream.” His charm blends impeccably with his roguish attitude and he leaves all the ladies weak in the knees.

Barrientos is a true gem in this role; as if it were made for her, just like the gleaming white jumpsuit and blue suede boot-heels she wears during the production. With a fierce voice that can range dynamically from sweet and heartbroken in numbers like “Fools Fall In Love” to her more racy rendition of “Burning Love,” the girl has got the gift of song embedded well within her. With a shining attitude that shifts according to her character’s needs Barrientos is an utter delight upon the stage; stealing moments in “A Little Less Conversation” as her alter-ego Ed. Belting that powerful sound during “Love Me Tender” and “Follow That Dream” the audience is treated again and again to her delectable talents.

So if you can dream, slip on your blue suede shoes and hop on up to the Rockville Musical Theatre for this production; because it’s now or never and you just can’t help falling in love with this fantastic cast.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

All Shook Up plays through November 17, 2012 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690.

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