Center REP opens the season with All Shook Up

By Miriam Wilson courtesy of Diablo Arts Magazine


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Elvis meets Shakespeare. That is the unlikely premise of the 2005 Broadway hit All Shook Up, a musical based on the plot of William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night and told through the songs of Elvis Presley. All Shook Up comes to Walnut Creek's Center REPertory Company in September. Artistic Director Michael Butler is certainly opening the 2009-2010 season with a bang.

Twenty-five of the King's hits, including "Devil in Disguise," "Heartbreak Hotel," and, of course, "All Shook Up," help tell a tale, set in the 1950s, of love, tolerance, and laugh-out-loud gender-bending disguises.

"I think people will be surprised and completely delighted at how well these songs work as theatre music. They're great story-telling songs," says Butler, who is an Elvis fan himself. Butler recalls his first "Elvis Experience," watching Presley perform in a television special in the late 1960s. "It was just him, all in black, playing with his original band, all of them sitting in a circle, playing these songs like they were on fire. You couldn't watch Elvis and not think he was great."

And more than 50 years later, the legacy of the roll 'n' roll icon is still "on fire," having sold more than a billion records worldwide-a feat matched only by the Beatles.

The name "Elvis" is now synonymous with wholesome '50s Americana, coupled with wild rebellion. Even in 2009, it's hard to go a day without running into his presence. From wall clocks to T-shirts, his image can be found everywhere, as can cocktails and sushi rolls bearing names of his songs, such as "Blue Hawaii," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Love Me Tender."

Even posthumously, Presley continues to win over the world with his extraordinary combination of charisma, talent, and heart. A respectable young man who loved his mother and enlisted in the US Army, Presley showed that even good boys are capable of being sex symbols, shaking his hips and using his baritone voice to make the crowds swoon. "His songs and his singing were so emotional, almost spiritual," says Butler, "but naughty too."

In All Shook Up, that winning charismatic combo belongs to Chad, an Elvis-inspired character who, according to Butler, is a "guitar-playing, motorcycle-driving roustabout who shows up in this small town and gets everybody, well, all shook up." When the female lead character falls for the Presley-esque rebel, she disguises herself as a man in order to get closer to him, leading to hilarity, confusion, and love-all to the beat of rock 'n' roll. For Center REP's production, Butler has put together a creative team including director/choreographer Robert Barry Fleming, who helmed Center REP's production of Ain't Misbehavin', and Kelly Tighe, whose work with Center REP has won numerous Shellie Awards for set design.

To break in the 2009-2010 season, Butler explains that he wanted something "that tells a good love story, makes us laugh and dance, and, of course, I just love putting a rockin' band onstage."