Review by Danny Gaisin
W.C. Fields expressed the theatrical caveat about acting with kids or pets…DON’T! He rightly figured that either would be a distraction. While watching the dress rehearsal of Hamilton Theatre Inc.’s presentation of ALL SHOOK UP, Fields’ observation kept coming to mind. No youngsters; no puppies, but an amazingly talented musical sextet kept diverting my attention. Conductor & keyboardist Trevor Price and especially his saxophone accompanist, Bill Holinaty, are such a phenomenal jazz ensemble that the play’s director Richelle Tavernier-Clements should hide them from sight!
“All Shook up” is all schlock. The plot is an amalgam of ‘Footloose’; ‘Grease’; ’Dirty Dancing’; and ‘Picnic’ with a seasoning of ‘American Graffiti’; performed to songs of Elvis Presley à la “Mamma Mia”.A town is uptight socially; bad boy arrives and disturbs the status quo; couples form relationships but are mismatched; love triumphs in the end…curtain! In other words- just plain fun.
The director has attempted to infuse continuity, i.e. libretto to song, but Joe Pietro’s book is far too convoluted and envelope-stretching to be anything but farce. Still, her cast gives full measure of effort and zest into their roles, and fortunately, have pleasant enough voices to carry off their characterizations. An interesting screen projection shows locales like the Bus terminal; garage; and amusement park; relieving the need for elaborate stage sets and props. H.T.I. is a community theatre and thus faces the financial hurdle endemic to the genre. Creativity helps alleviate the dearth of disposable funds.
The catalyst disrupter – Chad, is portrayed by Joseph DiFlavianno who has the physical stature and pleasant enough voice for a lead role; but unfortunately fails to exhibit the charismatic arrogance of a ‘Ren’; or a ‘Danny’; or Picnic’s ‘Hal Carter’ personas. Trust me, Joseph, you’re a lady killer and very much a ‘stud’… you definitely can strut about the stage with impunity. As his grease-monkey tomboy inamorata; ‘Natalie’, Melissa Walker has all the vocal chops despite a diminutive size, to be a credible “Betty Rizzo”; even earning her denouement white leathers. The on-stage mother/daughter combination of Geraldine Defoe & Shanika Lewis-Wadell both are outstanding vocalists as well as competent thespians. The requisite geek who goes unnoticed by his object of affection, is played by Stephen Koshurba. A little bit overdone but will no doubt smooth down for tonight’s opening. Brianne McNeely as the statuesque museum manager, and Beth Gould as the anal mayor both contribute to the fun.
ALL SHOOK UP is not for serious theatregoers, but for an evening of entertainment; songs that are almost musical icons and certainly hum-along-able- Shook Up is worthwhile. Elvis will ‘NOT have left the building [Hamilton Theatre – MacNab St.] until March 3rd.