One must wonder if the King of Rock and Roll meant for his greatest hits to be sung in a show tune chorus fashion.
If Pauper Players’ latest production, “All Shook Up,” is any indication, he probably didn’t.
While earnest and full of cute, kitschy double entendres, Pauper’s latest effort — a jukebox musical featuring exclusively Elvis tunes — is an ultimately pointless piece of musical theatre.
And while that isn’t entirely the cast’s fault, they struggle to hold an audience’s attention throughout the two and half hour mash up of Elvis music (beyond the two rows of Pauper fans and hangers-on who felt the need to cheer and scream at every even slightly risqué moment).
Elvis just wasn’t a song and dance man — at least not in this way — and the performance suffers as a result.
“All Shook Up” tells the story of a nondescript midwestern town where sexual repression is the norm. Dreams are dashed, spouses and significant others are conveniently dead or missing and the mayor (an amusing and underused Kelsey Reinhard) has passed a law banning public displays of affection.
That all changes, however, when the sexy, sultry Chad (Jack Utrata) rolls into town on his motorcycle. Never mind that in this production, the bike is really more of a Vespa; when Chad shows up, folks start falling in love and singing their true feelings, with the help of a guitar and Mr. Elvis Presley himself.
Romantic wires get crossed when a young female mechanic, Natalie (Natalie Pelletier), disguises herself as the drifter “Ed” in order to spend time with Chad and win his affections.
Oh, also almost everyone is in love with museum curator Ms. Sandra (Cydney Swofford) — but that’s not hard, as Swofford is the one of the most engaged and dedicated members of this cast.
The threadbare plot, which is supposedly based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” isn’t the most important part of this show — it’s the music, a hastily-cobbled together and over-choreographed collection of Elvis tunes.
And it would be almost fun to tap along to those familiar tunes, if the overpowering and underwhelming pit orchestra would allow it.
Pauper’s traditionally unimpressive orchestra, usually resigned to the back of the Union Cabaret, is front and center here in the Historic Playmakers’ Theatre, drowning out even the most powerful of singers and rendering some numbers — like Act One’s “That’s All Right” — completely undecipherable.
As a result, the cast feels lost on the tiny HPT stage, drifting around and sloppily executing dance moves. Without the challenging staging requirements of the Cabaret, Pauper seems to have left too much up to a theatrical magic that never quite materializes.
In his program notes, director Nick Culp claims that “All Shook Up” is a far better jukebox musical than “Mamma Mia.” But “Mamma Mia,” which has its fair share of problems, is a lot more fun than this production.
Unlike “Mamma Mia,” this musical takes itself almost too seriously, leaving out all possibilities of campy tribute and believing a little too much in its message of true love conquering all.
The likable, happy cast probably could have used another week of rehearsal, but even that wouldn’t have fixed the book, and the orchestrations, and the orchestra.
There are many bright spots — Swofford comes close to stealing the show, Reinhard is spot on and the adorably dorky Dennis, as played by Ben Muller, is a lovable foil to Utrara’s Chad, who can’t quite decide if he wants to be Elvis’ doppelgänger. The chorus tries hard.
It could be the theater, or the ensemble or the book, but when it comes down to it, Elvis just shouldn’t be put through this kind of treatment.
Even the finest cast couldn’t save this musical, and Pauper’s effort, while noble and sometimes amusing, doesn’t quite come close.
It’s all shook up, when perhaps it should never have been shaken at all.
Three out of Five Stars.
Pauper Player’s “All Shook Up” runs through Tuesday, April 5 in the Historic Playmakers’ Theatre. Times are 8 p.m. every night, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets, available at the Memorial Hall Box Office, are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.
See the Pauper website for more information.
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