Theater review: “All Shook Up” at Parkway Playhouse

Will Storrs, left, plays a domineering sheriff and Robby Taylor is a guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding Elvis-esque roustabout in Parkway Playhouse's production of All Shook Up. Photo by Rob Storrs

A Summer rock ’n’ roll revival is under way at Parkway Playhouse, with the crowd-pleasing Elvis Presley musical, All Shook Up. The show has all the feel of a long-lost Elvis movie of the late ’50s, following the life of a roustabout who makes his way from a minor prison stint to a sleepy little town in need of an awakening. There, he shakes the citizens into discovering their honest feelings toward each other, and toward life in general. Of course, this town is also under the iron rule of a mayor who outlaws public affection and rock ’n’ roll. Enter a rebel with a cause and a guitar.

Parkway artistic director Andrew Gall has assembled a large ensemble of hard-working and talented entertainers, bringing along Parkway regular Dominic Aquilino, as the primary music director, and Amanda Pisano, whose choreography is an inventive feast for the eyes. Young performers fill out the show, providing backing vocals and executing some spectacular dance moves.

Robby Taylor is the outsider Chad, who rolls into town on his motorcycle and sets off a chain reaction. As he croons, the town’s girls swoon. Myra McCoury is the local mechanic, Natalie, who has caught the eye of the awkward Dennis, but falls head-over-monkeywrench for Chad. McCoury is charming and fun to watch, as is Bobby Abrahamson as the geeky Dennis, who nearly steals the show.

This is but one love triangle within the show. Chad falls for the new museum curator, Miss Sandra, played by Mary Katherine Smith-Gall. Natalie’s widowed father, Jim, also falls for Miss Sandra, and seeks out advice from Chad on how to be cool. This leads to some great comedic moments from Rob Storrs, who plays the lovelorn Jim, a middle-ager-turned-hip-shaking-greaser. Co-music director Roberta Whiteside plays single mother Sylvia. She is clearly meant for Jim, but has to keep her daughter, Lorraine, from running off with the mayor’s son, Dean. Whiteside raises the bar with her incredible voice, giving the show a sweet center among the over-the-top silliness that dominates much of the plot. Will Storrs has a great turn as the silent and stoic sheriff, Earl.

The show is filled with hard-to-believe conceits and antics, including cross-dressing, mixed-up identities and a few predictable twists. There are just enough sincerely sweet plot lines to make the more loony parts palatable. Regardless, the show had the audience swaying, clapping and cheering at every leg-twisting, hip-shaking turn.

The soundtrack is an endless list of beloved Elvis songs: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Devil In Disguise,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “A Little Less Conversation,” “Hound Dog,” “Teddy Bear” and, naturally, the title song — to name but a few.

WHAT: All Shook Up
WHERE: Parkway Playhouse, ParkwayPlayhouse.com
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 8. Friday and Saturday nights, at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, at 3 p.m.. $12-$22

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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