Featuring the Music of Elvis Presley
Book by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Scott Coltman
Rightfully opening on Valentine’s Day, Edinburgh grassroots theatre group The Bohemians sprinkle the air of the Churchill Theatre with love, passion and a heaping bucket of lust and pelvic-thrusting deviance.
Arriving onto the scenes in some tight pants and high-rise hair, All Shook Up is a 2004 creation from lyricist and playwright Joe DiPietro which has nothing but love on its mind. This is not as much a household name as others of the genre: mind you the catalogue of music is some of the world’s finest, utilising Elvis Presley’s repertoire.
Everyone here falls in love: more than love triangles, DiPietro’s story shifts into multi-dimensional love affairs, confusions, rejections, and enough rock ballads to dance the evening away. And it’s all one guy’s fault: Chad. An Elvis’ come James Dean stand-in, Chad is everything you wanted to be: heartthrob and motorcyclist going from town to town revamping the American mid-west’s dour and miserable residents who couldn’t find love, couldn’t find music. But it all changes when he meets someone. Not that one. No, not this one either. It all changes when Chad meets someone who changes the way he thinks about life, women, and himself.
A segmented script, producing vignettes of failed and hopeful lovers, All Shook Up has an overarching story in its ten, yes ten, hopeless romantics. But our chief concerns of this lot are Chad, his new sidekick and bit of a nerd Dennis, and Dennis’ best friend Natalie. Natalie, in truth, is the driving force behind the production, her father’s auto-repair shop and her pining for Chad being the principal drives of storytelling.
Now, we don’t have enough degrees in quantum mechanics to explain all the love connections here: but to put it plainly, everyone is looking for some. The narrative shape of character routines flows with a stop-and-start structure, where we cycle through a collective of pairings, catching up with each of their tales, circling back once to complete a circuit. It pushes the first act into the lengthier territory – but these issues lay primarily with the original script, Scott Coltman’s direction striving to pick up the pacing and tighten the transitions between scenes with fast curtain pulls and small interluding skits and songs to cover scene changes.
Comedic elements skirt the edges of Looney Tune territory – but it’s all carried and played with such panache that it works wonders. The Bohemians’ All Shook Up plays like a parody of jukebox, the best of the genre sticking true to the origins they lampoon: the instant lovers, the bad boy and the hopeless father charmingly played by Sean Quinn. It oozes stereotypes and tropes, but The Bohemians run with every forced gag and pour themselves into this, capturing the insanity and the laughter with tremendous relish.
Felicity Halfpenny, who could be mistaken as a cartoon character with their short walk shuffle, booming voice, and bold character, is an absolute joy to watch in their villainous role as the town Mayor. They aren’t chewing the scenery – they’re devouring the stage, owning every second of this relatively minor role, who becomes an audience favourite every moment they burst onto the stage or are dragged out on some of the show’s cost-effective inventive prop creations. Equally, her largely silent town sheriff Earl, played by Neil Lavin, holds the audience with his physical comedy, especially when Coltman’s direction utilises the entirety of the theatre’s space off of the stage. Fear not – there are some belter pipes behind both of their villainous actions.
It’s true for much of the cast, who have fine-tuned vocals: notably, Cathy Geddie’s powerful role as Sylvia and Tara McCullough, who turns in an endearing and captivating performance as Lorraine, the lovestruck teen who finds class culture interfering with her infatuation of the Mayor’s son Dean, played by Dean McAvoy. One or two other performers have a projection issue with some of the numbers; when combined with the band, coming out with extreme volume. But there’s still fine annunciation – every lyric is heard and every joke carried. Finlay Turnball’s musical direction, volume forgave, is tight and rhythmic, the band never drowning a lyric despite the volume levels. It’s a stellar band too, who manages to carry the mood even outside of the open musical numbers, keeping the momentum up as the evening progresses.
Pushing their comedic chops as stringently as their impressive vocals – Fraser Jamieson’s Dennis is the absolute heart of the entire production with his downtrodden and desperately in-love manner. Jamieson gives everything to the timing which makes the laughs punch harder, and when sharing the stage with Linzi Dever’s Natalie or the powerhouse pipes and performance from Sutherland or Mills, it’s difficult not to burst into giggles at the script’s obvious but perfectly pitched jokes and anecdotes.
Butler may be tipped for an Oscar, but The Bohemians have already struck gold with their casting of Colin Sutherland who understands the vitality of the performance of Chad. This is a character in nearly every scene, and even with their early moments of casual misogyny and blatantly repressed sexuality and awakening, play them all for laughs at Chad rather than shots at other characters. From Jailhouse Rock to Love Me Tender, Sutherland has a tough act to capture, but there’s an obvious element of adding the Elvis magic to the numbers, but Sutherland keeps the role his own with nods to James Dean and Travolta.
It could all be too much, too ridiculous, yet the sheer effort in performance and commitment works tremendously for the entire cast. Linzi Devers flips back and forth between Natalie and Ed, a parody which draws even Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (or the cinematic classic She’s The Man) into the mix, but channels a sincerity through their role which staves off concerns of the deception and treatment of other characters, and isn’t afraid to lean into the comedic physicality of it all.
Together with Christine Mills’ Museum curator/local heartthrob, the pair run with their characterisation, imbuing such intense vibrancy and animation that it’s difficult to keep up with just how many minor movements and gags they throw at the audience, Mill’s carrying their performance just as remarkable as their vocals, a tremendous range which is met with feverish appreciation from the entire audience.
But it’s not just the singing – Fiona Burn’s choreography has a place on the bustling stage, making use of the limited room they have, spacing out routines to keep cast members from colliding with one another or becoming a blur of limbs and movement. It’s at its most effective when played with limited cast members, Mills and Sutherland strutting their moves wherever possible, the flexibility and playfulness of it all as endearing as it is impressive. The ensemble too makes full use of their time on stage, carrying show-stopping group renditions of Can’t Help Falling In Love and Burning Love.
You can’t help falling in love with All Shook Up. It’s not a jukebox to change the genre, but it punches enough pizzazz and thrusts into the mix to keep the formula from becoming stale. The Bohemians take great delight in giving it their all, running full guns blazing over to each ridiculous character. It’s remarkably chipper and cheerful in its parody and performance, with some sensational vocals, placing character and comedy at the forefront, a sure-fire hit for audiences for a glowing evening out with some of Edinburgh’s best talent.
You Can’t Help Falling In Love
All Shook Up runs at the Churchill Theatre until February 18th. Tickets for which may be obtained here. Tickets: £18 (£15 con.)
Photo Credit – Ric Brannan Photography