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The national tour of the Elvis Presley jukebox musical All Shook Up, produced by Phoenix Entertainment and staged with great gusto, imagination, and wit by director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, blew into town Tuesday night—and has been rocking Raleigh Memorial Auditorium ever since. The latest presentation of Broadway Series South is a high-octane Broadway musical that stars Joe Mandragona as a leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding, guitar-strumming roustabout and Elvis Presley clone named Chad, who is a veritable force of nature who single-handedly transforms boring backwater towns into cauldrons of, well, burning love.
The show also stars pert Broadway newcomer Jenny Fellner (Mamma Mia) as motorcycle mechanic Natalie Heller, who falls for Chad like a ton of bricks but can’t get him to give her the time of day until she dresses in drag as Ed and replaces her best friend Dennis (Dennis Moench) as Chad’s number-one sidekick, and tall and statuesque Broadway veteran Susan Anton as small-town museum curator Miss Sandra, the erstwhile object of Chad’s affections—who won’t cut that bad boy an inch of slack.
Joe Mandragona is a hunka, hunka burning love as Chad, with an Elvis-like curl in his upper lip and a pair of swiveling hips that have a mind of their own. Jenny Fellner is a real honeybun as Natalie/Ed, who can’t get a second look from Chad and then, in her disguise as Ed, cannot get blonde and beautiful Miss Sandra to quit looking her way with lust in her heart.
Wally Dunn is hilarious as Natalie's dull-as-dishwater father Jim Haller, a perpetually down-in-the-dumps widower who suddenly stuns the town by showing up at Sylvia's bar in shades and tight jeans and a leather jacket, instead of his usual grease-monkey coveralls. Dressed as a balding, middle-aged version of Chad, morose Jim is suddenly hot to trot; but also blind to the obvious interest of his good friend Sylvia (Natasha Yvette Williams), the African-American proprietor of the bar that serves as one of the prime gathering spots in the small unnamed Midwestern town that Chad's arrival turns upside-down.
Mandragona doesn't quite have a deep enough voice to emulate the ringing baritone of the King, but Fellner and Anton have big Broadway voices and Williams can belt out rhythm-and-blues numbers with the best of them. Dennis Moench is good as poor lovelorn nebbish Dennis, whose puppyish love for Natalie is unrequited; and Beth Glover is a real pistol as Mayor Matilda Hyde, a head-wagging self-righteous busybody who thinks fun is a four-letter word—especially for teenagers in the grip of hormones.
The “forbidden love” of Valisia Lekae Little as Sylvia’s irrepressible daughter Lorraine and Buddy Hammonds (subbing for Brian Sears) as Matilda’s rebellious son Dean Hyde, who soon goes AWOL from the Southern military academy that he attends, provides a serious subplot about interracial love, circa 1955; and Kevin B. McGlynn (subbing for David Benoit) adds a crisp cameo as taciturn Sheriff Earl.
Fabulous sets by David Rockwell (especially the set for the abandoned amusement park), stylish mid-Fifties fashions by David C. Woolard, and artful lighting by Donald Holder all help All Shook Up rock the joint. But it is stellar performances by Joe Mandragona, Jenny Fellner, and Susan Anton and red-hot instrumental accompaniment by the All Shook Up band, powered by guitarist Joseph Parker's hot licks, that give this musical its special sparkle and earned the show a rowdy standing ovation Wednesday night at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Be there or be square.
Broadway Series South presents All Shook Up Thursday-Friday, March 22-23, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 24, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 25, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $24-$64. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565, firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Arts Access, Inc of Raleigh, NC (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. March 24th performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. Broadway Show: http://www.allshookup.com/home_content.html [inactive 10/07]. The Tour: http://www.allshookup.com/ [inactive 10/07]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=383113. Official Elvis Presley Web Site: http://www.elvis.com/. Joe Mandragona: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2121246/ (Internet Movie Database). Jenny Fellner: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=112688 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1648136/ (Internet Movie Database). Susan Anton: http://www.susananton.com/ (official web site), http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=84175 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://imdb.com/name/nm0000772/ (Internet Movie Database).