We’ve got a Hunka Hunka Burning Love for All Shook Up at the Garrick!
Review – All Shook Up by the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company
Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre
By Jono Oates, Features Writer
With a songbook of classic Elvis Presley tunes, laugh out loud comedy lines, fabulous 50s costumes and dance routines that will make you want to get up on stage with them, the cast of the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company will get you All Shook Up at the Lichfield Garrick this week!
This musical is a little bit of a hidden treasure, it’s not one that I was aware of and it has not always received fantastic reviews elsewhere but it’s a crackerjack of a musical with some great original songs in it as well as the Presley classics. It has a funny, quirky and feel good storyline which is a mixture of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies and the dance-laden film Footloose – now that’s a rare combination!
The show is not the story of Elvis but uses some of his best known songs, as well as some original ones, as the backdrop to the plot, and there is also a lovely running gag about blue suede shoes. It also uses the plotline basis of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night but don’t worry if you’re not a fan of the Bard, the plotline of this show is much easier to follow and you won’t need to have read any of his books before enjoying it!
The story follows Chad, a drifter and roustabout, who rides into town on his broken down motorbike looking for a repair shop. The town is governed by a strict mayor who forbids any kind of public affection on the streets, has banned the jukebox, dancing and singing (as in the film Footloose). Chad meets tomboy Natalie who works in her dad’s garage who instantly falls for him, despite his indifference to her. While she’s repairing his bike Chad meets the other characters in town: ex college boy Dennis, who is hopelessly in love with a blissfully unaware Natalie, bar-owner Sylvia who last had a relationship years before and is now single and settled, Sylvia’s perky daughter Lorraine who is desperate to find love, Natalie’s dad Jim, a single father and in a relationship rut, Matilda the full of frustration mayor and her army cadet son Dean and finally Sandra the voluptuous and poetry loving museum curator.
Chad believes in free love, leather jackets, 8 string guitars and the roar of a motorbike and he soon sweet talks the tied up town into releasing all of their romantic frustrations and pent up emotions so that soon everyone in town soon falls head over heels in love with everyone else. This where Twelfth Night comes in as the writer of the book on which the show is based, Joe DiPietrio, uses a typical Shakespeare ploy from his comedies – mistaken identity, women dressing as men, star crossed lovers, characters falling for the wrong partner etc. So, when grease monkey Natalie realises that her dreamboat Chad is a ‘mans-man’ she disguises herself as Ed, a ruff-tuff mechanic, to get close to him – only to discover that Chad falls for ‘his’ manly charms and even considers, comfortable in his own sexuality, running away with the ‘man’ of his dreams. All the other main characters also fall for the wrong person without realising that their perfect partner is just a step away. Will Chad be able to use his magic to make sure that everyone ends up with their dream lover and will he be able to end up with Natalie, the man…er I mean woman…of his dreams – or will Matilda the Mayor win the day and keep the Streets of Mean?
This musical is right up the SCMTC’s street, their experience and knowledge of this genre is clear to see and they perform it with expertise, enthusiasm and, a word that Chad would definitely associate with – FUN! From the opening bars of the immense Jailhouse Rock to the fist-pumping finale of Burning Love the audience is transported back to the days of booby-socks, leather jackets, The Fonz and, of course, blue suede shoes.
Adam Gregory is Chad and provides the perfect balance as the King of Cool and the King of Fun as he struggles with his feelings for the boy-girl Natalie-Ed, he’s great either as the pelvis gyrating snarled lipped singer or quip-cracking asides to the audience as he makes fun of himself and the situation he finds himself in. Lucy Surtees, last seen as Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q, has a totally different role here, playing tom-boy Natalie and switching convincingly between pretty feminine dress to boiler suit and unflattering hat with consummate ease. Kerrie Davies plays stuck in a rut Sylvia and is both tender and tough as she tries to work out whether she wants to make a go of it with Jim. Ben Green is good fun as loveable lug Jim, as he desperately tries, and fails, to become the middle-age Chad. Chloe Child and Ed Mears as two young lovers Lorraine and Dean are terrific, both very bouncy and fresh-faced, two typical All-American kids and with two very strong voices. Louise Grifferty is the only ‘villain’ of the play, as the matriarchal Mayor of Mean, but she plays it with an air of vulnerability so that you know she can’t be all bad, especially when we get to learn about the shocking revelation from the strong, silent sheriff Earl, played by SCMTC regular Ben Adams.
Vanessa Morgan is lovely as sultry sexy Sandra the museum curator, who is totally indifferent to the smitten Chad and has some super throwaway vamp lines that get some great laughs.
But my favourite is the tall, leggy, ‘lanky man’ dorky Dennis, played with charm, fun, sensitivity and true pathos by Tony Orbell. We all love a trier, especially a hopeless case trier, and Tony is excellent as Dennis tries to woo Natalie and be best mates with his hero Chad, the man he would like to be but never could be. He has some lovely lines, great visual gags, a tasteful dropping the trousers moment and when is rebutted, hurt and rejected for the umpteenth time he gets the best ‘Awww Bless’ moment from the audience. A terrific performance in every scene, whether as the focus or off spotlight, definitely worth watching out for.
There are some great musical numbers (well it is The King after all!) and particular highlights for me were the catchy C’Mon Everybody, Can’t Help Falling in Love, A little Less Conservation and Blue Suede Shoes. I also loved the beautiful, sad and heart breaking There’s Always Me, wonderfully sung by Kerrie Davies, under a striking spotlight and as clear as crystal, a very emotional moment.
As always with the SCMTC some fantastic ensemble pieces, with everyone going hell-for leather and superb choreography from Maggie Jackson. Debutant production director Elisa Millward got off to a flying start with an inspired cast giving their all in an infectiously fun performance, and musical director Sheila Pearson oversaw a tight and era-evoking soundtrack, keeping a lovely tempo, balancing the power of the upbeat tracks to the deftness of the ballads. Special mention to the costume designers, Suzanne Harris and Rosie Lloyd Farmer, all polka dots, A lines, hairbands and bobby-socks, the whole cast looked fantastic bright and colourful. The production was spot on and a great set design, with a backdrop of an old carousel complete with wooden fairground horses.
As the closing notes of the finale Burning Love rang out the cast stood with fists pumped up in the air, the audience stood and gave their ovation, which was wholly deserved.
All Shook Up is a little known stage show but with a huge heart and a big soul – catch it while you can, it may not come around again soon!
All Shook Up performed by the Sutton Coldfield Music Theatre Company is in the main theatre of the Lichfield Garrick until Saturday 22 September, 7.30pm nightly with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday. Tickets from £18-£20, available from the Lichfield Garrick, ring 01543 412121 or book via website at www.lichfieldgarrick.com