ABOUT CENTER REP

Reviews

 


 

by Pat Craig ----Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 09/09/2009 10:35:27 PM PDT

In the early days of rock 'n' roll and late days of TV's "Your Hit Parade," complaints were leveled, as they so often were in those days, against the music and the show. How, asked the protectors of the finer things in life, could they possibly find new ways for Snooky Lanson and Dorothy Collins to perform "Hound Dog?"

And since the producers of "Your Hit Parade" took the little musical vignettes as seriously as the fine, rich taste of Lucky Strike Cigarettes, the answer was, not bloody many. And "Your Hit Parade" faded from television.

If only they'd embraced irony and silliness the show might have lived years longer. That's exactly what All Shook Up, currently playing in Walnut Creek with all the power and flash of a lightning storm, does, and it's one of the most energetic and entertaining rock musicals to come along in some time.

Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) has crafted a story around two dozen tunes recorded by Elvis Presley over the years, and by refusing to take anything too seriously, has come up with a gem of a show.

The show, presented by Center REPertory Company, opens with a brash, coed, Vegas-y version of "Jailhouse Rock," created only to introduce us to Chad (David Sattler), a young man with grease in his hair, a Harley for a horse, a guitar for a pal and an irresistible appeal to the ladies. He's being released from jail with the stern warning to never impose his rock 'n' roll morality on the unsuspecting public.

But wouldn't you know, the moment he arrives in "A small you-never-heard-of-it-town somewhere in the Midwest," the pelvis-wiggling, gal-thrilling, guitar rocking spell is upon him, and that teeny town, vintage 1955, is under the thumb of the big beat. The kids are going wild, the adults are going wild, and Mayor Matilda Hyde (Lynda DiVito) has her head spinning from watching her no-fun, no-necking, no-laughing town go down the drain.

It's a pleasant story with not a lot of surprises, although it does manage to sneak in a few fairly sharp social jabs here and there. What makes it rise above the rest of the jukebox shows is its sheer energy and sense of fun. The idea seems to be you have either heard the songs ("Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Teddy Bear") or you haven't (the forgettable "Roustabout," "Let Yourself Go"), so it's a good time to have fun with them. The context of each is often changed, to the point where the lyrics take on new meaning or, in the case of "One Night with You," become running gags for towering lust.

Director Robert Barry Fleming and musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu, have assembled a hugely talented cast and run them ragged with gags and fast steps that leave the audience, not to mention the cast, breathless. Sattler makes the most of the Chad role, playing wonderfully opposite Benjamin Pither as his sidekick Dennis, who has a crush on the wonderful Mindy Lym, who plays Natalie, a gal mechanic with a crush on Chad.

But the best thing about the show is that it attempts nothing greater than to entertain, and it does that wonderfully.

 

Kedar K. Adour

Mindy Lym & David Sattler star in All Shook Up at Center REP

Artistic Director Michael Butler and staff selected the rousing musical All Shook Up to open their 2009-2010 season and it was (is) a brilliant move that will keep the 300-seat theater filled for its entire run. It is an Elvis Presley inspired show that opens with roustabout Chad (David Sattler) and ensemble backup, belting “Jailhouse Rock” as he is released from his night in jail getting ready to hit the road. Jailer (Ron Pickett) reluctantly hands over three “love letters’, one each from his daughter, wife AND mother! Gentlemen, lock up your lady friends, all generations will be swooning over hip swinging Elvis inspired Chad as he roars onto center stage riding his Harley Davidson start kicking an evening of musical/dancing fun that will bring tears to your eyes from laughter and cheers during this must see production. You won’t even have to put a nickel in the Jukebox when Chad’s magic touch will do the trick.

After having enjoyed the National Touring version of All Shook Up at the 2500 seat San Jose Musical theatre in 2007, I can unequivocally aver that the Center REP venue is the perfect size for this show. The spectacular energy generated by a top-notch cast, on the bright ingenious set (Kelly James Tighe), enfolds the audience as they clap and cheer ending the evening with a standing ovation. You will have to wait until the second act to hear the title song but before that, your ears will be treated with the hip-swinging songs made famous by Elvis from 1953 well into the 60s that defined the start of the Rock ‘n Role era. The opening number gets your juices your juices rolling for the evening as they all project pathos, humor and social conscience woven into the energy of the dancing and singing. A sample of the songs are: “Heartbreak Hotel”, “One Night with You”, “Hound Dog”, “Love me Tender”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Let Yourself Go”, “Can’t Help Fallin in Love”, “There’s Always Me”, “Fools Fall in Love” and many others.

The book by Joe DiPietro, of I Love You, Your’re Perfect, Now Change fame, is based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” where a young girl disguises herself as a boy to further her pursuit of the man she loves. Inexplicably All Shook UP opened at the Palace Theatre in New York in 2005 and closed after only 213 performances and the road show was less successful probably because it relied on the reputation of a former Miss America contestant, playing the role of Miss Sandra, to draw in the crowds.

There is a theme to the story defined by the song “Follow That Dream” introduced by Chad. Natalie (marvelous voiced Mindy Lym)) is smitten in love with Chad who in turn is ga-ga over sexpot museum director (no that is not an oxymoron) Miss Sandra (Elise Youssef ). Youssef’s portrayal of Miss Sandra beats the Miss America wannabe her by a mile (huba-huba!). Sattler mimics the hip-swinging Elvis moves with deft style as his words and actions carry the plot with great support from the cast and is in competition for applause, from the “lesser” cast members, each who have their turn to express and follow that dream with show stopping spins on center stage.

It is the summer of 1955 in a “small you-never-heard-of it town, somewhere in the Midwest” where kissing in public, dancing and having any kind of fun is verboten by uptight Mayor Matilda Hyde (Lynda DiVito). The black-jacketed roustabout Chad rolls into town on his Harley where he meets Natalie who has dreams of “hitting the road.” We know the love bug has bitten her as she swoons to the words of “One Night with You” which becomes a recurring refrain for other lovers to be. Alas, Chad discourages her with his oft-repeated brag “I’ve had LOTS of women.” Within the 24 hours that Chad is around, the entire town falls under the spell of this modern day Pied Piper to the refrain of “Blue Suede Shoes.” All the townspeople end up wearing the magical blue suede shoes.

Local milquetoast Dennis (Benjamin Pither), in love with Natalie, offers a suggested that she masquerade as “Ed” to become Chad’s sidekick thus “keeping close” to Chad. Chad sends Ed/Natalie as his emissary to Miss Sandra who falls in love with Ed/Natalie. Unexpectantly, Chad falls in love with Ed/Natalie leading to emotional conflict about his own sexuality. This gender bending twist is exploited for great laughs near the end of the play.

Casting director Jennifer Perry has rounded up a fantastic cast. Sattler mimics the hip-swiveling Elvis moves with deft style with strong voice to give proper “Elvis style” to his singing. The major cast members all have show stopping moments in song and dance. In the ingénue roles Anika Bobb (as Lorraine) Jason Hite (as Dean Hyde) are a perfect match as his quiet demeanor contrasts with her vivacious personality. Colin Thomson (as Jim Haller) playing Natalie’s balding father has many comic moments especially when he, under Chad and Miss Sandra’s spell, dons his own black jacket and blue suede shoes. Andrea Brembry (as Sylvia) dominates the stage in her solo numbers as she falls under the spell of blue suede shoes and Jim Hallers advances. Benjamin Pither (as Dennis) makes a brilliant transformation from the reticent suitor to the love attraction of Miss Sandra. Lynda DiVito (as uptight dominatrix Mayor Matilda Hyde) is hysterically humorous in her transformation with a true show stopping turn that brings the house down. Even Ron Pickett (as Sheriff Earl) who has a non-speaking role through most of show displays a great singing voice and strong stage presence with his two minute dominance of Mayor Matilda.

All the voices are excellent and there are myriad classy stage actions. You’ll never see a more cleverly staged scene then where a bicycle chases a schematic Greyhound bus full people leaving town. The museum scene with statues coming to life is worth the price of admission. Robert Barry Fleming’s direction and choreography are well suited for the young cast as they cavort about the attractive sets in eye-catching 1960 costumes by Melissa Anne Davis under Kurt Landisman’s imaginative lighting.

Don’t miss out on this fantastic production and buy your ticket now. Running time about 2 hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com


 

by Charles Jarrett

There's a whole lot of Shakin' goin' on in Walnut Creek

Now, time to take another deep breath as I am still in “rave” mode and about to shout about another terrific production taking place at the same time, in the same venue, with Center REPertory Company’s brilliantly funny, superbly directed All Shook Up, in the Margaret Lesher Theatre.

This musical is all new and all together intrinsically in tune with the music and character of movies made by America’s great rock ‘n roller, Elvis Presley! Following the lead of a new musical style pioneered by ABBA ‘s creative team, who took the very popular music of their band, and created a delightfully romantic and upbeat story about a single mother on a little Greek island, in their production of “Mama Mia”, this musical has done something equally as fun and exciting with the music of Elvis Presley. This “jukebox musical” played well on Broadway in 2005 and closed after 213 performances and won the 2005 Theatre World Award and a 2005 Drama Desk Award as well.

While not as brilliantly conceived at “Mama Mia”, the story is a delightfully modern take on William Shakespeare’s 12th Night, especially as it relates to mistaken identities causing a mismatch of lovers’ interests. The lead character, Chad, is slightly reminiscent of a cross between Brando’s motorcycle, show-boating character in the movie The Wild One, and Elvis Presley’s rebel character in his seventh movie, “Wild in the Country”.

The story evolves in the mid 1950’s as a young, handsome, motorcycle riding, guitar playing, sexy crooning, roustabout, Chad (David Sattler), pulls into a small Midwest town. Before the roar of his motorcycle dies out, he is immediately seen by all the women in town as a tantalizing piece of non-conformity, It doesn’t take long before he cuts loose his pelvis gyrating moves on the moral majority (a town which had passed the Mamie Eisenhower Morality Act), and in so doing, shakes the sanctity and piety of this little country town down to its slumbering core.

Mindy Lym plays Natalie Haller, the grease monkey, tom-boy daughter of the town’s only gas station owner, Jim Haller (Colin Thomson). Naturally, Miss Haller perks up when she hears the roar of Chad’s motorcycle, pulls him to one side and cautions him that he is about to suffer a blown gasket if she doesn’t take an immediate look at his – ah – er - bike! Chad is a typical Elvis character, extremely good looking, sexy, swaggering with all the etceteras that Elvis was noted for, without actually trying to make him into an Elvis look and act alike. Chad immediately focuses his attention on the town’s librarian, Miss Sandra (Elise Youssef), whose good looks could write a new chapter in Google references. She wants nothing to do with this leather jacketed, intellectually inept, guitar banging troubadour. Chad forms a friendship with a local nerd, Dennis (Benjamin Pither), who follows Chad everywhere and becomes his sidekick doing Chad’s bidding. Dennis is feeling for the first time in his lonely life what it is like being respected and needed by someone, even if it is not a female.

Natalie decides that maybe the way for a tom-boy mechanic to get close to this rough hewn roustabout, is to don a motorcycle jacket, paint on a mustache and pretend to be a male of similar ilk. Now we have a female playing a slightly built male, who is apparently very knowledgeable about Shakespeare’s sonnets, thus causing the very sexy librarian to fall for Natalie, whom she thinks is a male. To make a long story short without revealing the many intricacies and rollercoaster turns this tale has yet to take, this wild and wacky story is outrageously funny, superbly directed by Robert Barry Fleming. It is so good, so well done in every respect by a terrific cast, that I couldn’t begin to individually praise every actor highly enough. It is hard to believe that his is a local production, comprised of local actors, and not a touring Broadway show! I don’t believe I have ever seen a more enjoyable musical production in this 300 seat theater. Artistic Director Michael Butler who has taken over the helm of Center REPertory Company has done an outstanding job with this production. Michael is a very accomplished musician himself and it really shows in the stellar production.

Musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu keeps the tempo up, without blasting us out of the theater, and the band really swings in perfect synchronicity. If you ever enjoyed Elvis Presley’s music, this show is an absolute must. The writers had to stretch the story line a bit to get so many different songs into the story, but all-in-all it works very well.

This show is as I declared earlier in this review, is “A must see production!” It plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with afternoon matinees at 2:30 p.m., on Saturdays and Sundays. All Shook Up continues through October 10th in the Margaret Lesher Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek.


 

by Richard Connema

Center Repertory Theatre is currently presenting a frothy production of Joe DiPietro's All Shook Up. This highly energetic production is full of wit and panache with a cast of very talented singers and dancers. It has enormously appealing leads and the whole production under the direction of Robert Barry Fleming is rapidly paced; he also devised the hip-swinging and vigorous choreography. If you are an Elvis Presley fan, you will be all shook up by this fast paced musical. Even if you are not into the Elvis' music, you will still find this a very entertaining evening of song and dance.

All Shook Up is very loosely based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with a little bit of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Footloose thrown in for good measure. It is set in a small town in the Midwest in 1955 at Sylvia's Bar. There are a bunch of losers in love and a lot of broken hearts. Chad (David Sattler), a hunky guitar biker who looks a lot like Elvis, comes to town to spread joy and romance. He says, "I'm just a roving roustabout with a song in his soul and a love for the ladies." The prudish town mayor Matilda Hyde (Lynda DiVito) has declared a decency proclamation banning public necking, tight pants and everything that is dirty. There are a lot of mismatched romances going on in this energy-driven musical, and the audience hears about twenty of the songs that Elvis Presley made famous.

As Chad, David Sattler (European tour of All Shook Up) is a mesmeric presence with a seductive singing style that is outstanding. Benjamin Pither (A New Brain, Act a Lady) is a delight as the nerd Dennis who has unrequited love for Natalie, played wonderfully by Mindy Lym (Bat Boy). Both break out in several songs with their golden chops.

Lynda DiVito (2008 SFBATCC award for In This House) is a real hoot as the pedantic Mayor Hyde. She breaks out in a hilarious arrangement of "Devil in Disguise" in the second act. Colin Thomson (All In the Timing) gives an amiable performance as Jim Natalie's square daddy and has great vocal chops in "Don't Be Cruel." Andrea Brembry (Once on This Island ) coolly portrays Sylvia the bar owner. She has a powerhouse voice in "That's All Right" and "There's Always Me." Anika Bobb is perky playing the daughter Lorraine. Ron Pickett (performing in Bay Area for 20 years) is fine as Sheriff Earl. Elise Youssef (Girl Crazy) is wonderful as Miss Sandra the repressive vamp who runs the cultural museum.

The dancing is marvelously energetic, especially from young Dane Paul Andres who has amazing moves to the Presley songs. Jason Hite, Ji Kim, Renee DeWeese, Evan Boomer, Will Skrip and Christa Rower sing and dance their hearts out in this very enjoyable musical.

Set design by Kelly James Tighe is wonderfully cartoon-like while Kurt Landisman's lighting adds enjoyment to the musical. The small band led by Dolores Duran-Cefalu is vivacious and great back up for the singers and dancers.

All Shook Up runs through October 10 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-943-7469 or visit www.CenterREP.org. Their next production will be Agatha Christie's masterpiece of suspense, Witness for the Prosecution, opening on October 23 and running through November 21.