The audience squirmed in their seats and chatted to neighbors until a southern drawl boomed from the ceiling. The warden holding Chad "The Roustabout" in jail warned us all to be respectful during the musical, or else -- only one of many shocks in the funny and ribald musical known as Penn Hill's "All Shook Up."
"All Shook Up" is all about Elvis Presley's music and love. Not the simple boy meets girl who conclude their placid lives with a romantic cliche. No, it's more complicated. There are love triangles that double into love hexagons; there's even cross-dressing! When love struck, a light would hit the next victim of cupid's arrow, everything around them would freeze and they'd belt out the line, "One night with you is what I'm not praying for." And it all takes place in a dreary little town that fosters quite a large dependence on "Burning Love." The only problem is Matilda the Mayor (senior Amber Voigt) finds trouble in the indecency of love.
Senior Eric Williams as Chad, the iconic bad boy and heartbreaker, was extremely entertaining. His movements were grand and he kept a mandatory bad boy face of indifference.
But he along with the entire cast sang too quietly to hear over the pit. At times lines were lost in the music the pit created to paint a scene or better project Chad's persona; the brass may have been very well tuned and melodious, but they did not always find harmony with the action on stage. To see someone's lips move and watch the story progress under a cloud of noise was not only frustrating, but took away from the overall razzmatazz of the musical.
Natalie won a piece of everyone's hearts for her sweet voice, determination, and the time she screamed from the top of her lungs. The senior who did all this was Katherine Rogers. She never held herself back and played her part as a greasy engineer in love with tremendous integrity. But she did more: when Chad wouldn't go for a greasy engineer like Natalie she changed, on stage, into the man known as "Ed." This transformation was handled well by Rogers because it was just as entertaining as it was challenging.
It's all better explained when you realize that the plot is adapted from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," making this a high school musical that slips in an English literature lesson, but has fun doing so. [editor's addition]
Dance numbers were confusing. There was a sense, as an audience member, of not knowing where to look. Stiff action happened all over the stage without a clear focal point and with mis-matched timings into the subsequent step. Duets were well sung; however when a single actor would take stage, the solos would be impeccable. They were emotional and full of soul, especially Heather Catley's, as Sylvia, "There's Always Me." Other memorable solos were those with Miss Sandra's sultry voice performed by Melissa Gess and Lorraine's spunky vitality performed by Savannah Wiggins.
But the best part of the musical was the comedy. Admittedly the actors would forget themselves and execute so strongly that at times it felt like an uproarious concert, but the love triangles were so funny and exciting, plus Dennis, played by Benjamin Blinn, was so geeky that he may have been the most lovable character in the musical! Well if not the most lovable, he definitely got the most laughs.
When a certain musician's hits become the centerpiece of action, romance, comedy, and drama in a play, it's your ordinary jukebox musical. A good jukebox musical however, with plot, exuberance and talent abound, has to be Penn Hill's "All Shook Up."
"All Shook Up" ran April 19-27.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson.