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‘All Shook Up’: A Critical Review

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The Facts

Play: “All Shook Up”

Author: Joe Dipietro

Director: Amy Fritsche

Theatre: E. Turner Stump Theatre

Theatre Company: Kent State School of Theatre and Dance

Performance Dates: February 23—March 4, 2018

Run Time: 2.5 hours

Words by Ashlynn Thompson 

A cool drifter named Chad rides into a Midwestern town one day in the 1950s and makes the ladies swoon with his pelvic thrusting and perfectly coiffed pompadour. The town has strict rules against music, dancing and “necking,” which Chad enthusiastically resists, and the town mechanic Natalie falls head over heels at first sight. Everyone is shot with Cupid’s arrow in this hilarious tale of love told through a power-of-music storyline. Credits to Elvis Presley for the title tune and many other hits featured in the production.

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Directorial Concept

The concept seeks to emphasize the joy of love and passion for music. The director, Amy Fritsche, along with Jennifer Hemphill, acted as co-choreographers, which amounts to arguably the most enjoyable and flawless aspect of the show, and the best dancing seen on the Kent State stage in recent memory. Every shimmy, thrust and stunt is imbued with so much passion that the cast’s connection with the audience is palpable. The costumes are just as bright and animated as the set, which is a kaleidoscope of color highlighting the pleasure and love-struck feelings of each character. However, nothing especially unique is done with this production; honestly, it’s hard to think of a musical that isn’t colorful and upbeat. The concept coasts by relying too heavily on the hilarity of the script and the energy of the ensemble. While it might be safe and easy to do this, audiences crave and respond even more to an innovative and creative concept.

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Elements of Production

Music is pivotal to this production, and the soundtrack is a very enjoyable one; “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” are among the classics featured. But expect to hear more than just rock ‘n’ roll. There is a delightful mix of funk and soul influences in the soundtrack as well. Be warned: There a few too many slow love songs that start to get very repetitive by the finale.

The set design and costumes are comprised entirely of bright colors, which seem to be present in any musical set in the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s a wonder if black clothing even existed back then, but maybe it was just a more colorful time. Female characters wear A-line dresses and poodle skirts, wardrobe staples for the time, and males dress in similar button-downs or sweaters and trousers. Being a rebel, Chad wears the quintessential leather jacket, a bowling shirt and sharp blue suede shoes that are so cool there’s even a song about them.

The lighting was just as colorful and provided comedic effect. When characters felt love at first sight the dialogue would abruptly stop, a spotlight would shine and the smitten character would start to sing encouraged by a swell of music. A deep red light would glow in the background to enhance the feeling, to the audience’s amusement. The level of color in this production is a touch overdone at times, but the elements of production provided a nice support to the toe-tapping, hip-thrusting music.

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The Acting

The cast gives a stand-out performance in a production where actors could have easily let the music and comedy overshadow their craft. Lead actor Zach Stark is perfectly cast as the “roustabout” Chad. He is the very definition of cool and exceptionally suave; you can tell he did his homework to perfect that Elvis pelvic thrust that makes women lose their minds.

Character actress and mainstay on the Kent stage Montria Walker is always a pleasure to see. Walker plays Lorraine, friend to Natalie and one of the many teens madly in love. It cannot be overstated how much light and soul she brings to the stage with her extraordinary voice. Audiences are impatiently waiting for the chance to see her in a leading role befitting of her talent.

Ron Zak is another flawless casting choice, bringing excellent comedic timing and wonderful nerdiness to the role of Dennis, friend and secret admirer of Natalie. Seriously, his solo song will have you in stitches. Other standouts included the singing talents of Amy Kohmescher, who portrays Chad’s first love interest Miss Sandra, and Aveena Sawyer, who plays Lorraine’s mother, Sylvia.

Unfortunately, lead Matti-Lynn Chrisman as Natalie is somewhat average compared to her brilliant co-stars. She relies heavily on the comedy of the dialogue to get her through many scenes, which ends up overshadowing her ability. Then, her singing voice does not have the soul and strength required for some numbers. Overall, the cast did fabulous work and should be commended on its passion and dedication, which is essential for the audience to feel engaged and equally enthusiastic.

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Why This is Worth Seeing

The opening number introduces you to the impressive level of energy that the cast keeps consistent throughout the production. It positively comes to life with the energetic music and flawless choreography that has the audience wanting to dance and sing along. Audience members will even get into the spirit by dressing in ‘50s garb and cheering mid-song for an actor who hits an impressive high note. But the directorial concept is fairly unoriginal, and the ending is predictable and characteristic of nearly every musical, which is the most disappointing aspect. Even with these faults, the production will have you smiling in your seat until the very end. Guaranteed.

Final Thoughts

The School of Theatre and Dance is in desperate need of a new kind of musical where the entire plot doesn’t revolve around romantic love. It is becoming tiring to see the same type of production performed time and time again. But one thing that will not get old is discovering new talent on the stage and seeing the great veteran actors of this school morph into different and complex characters that delight and impress every time. A bright Broadway future is on the horizon for many.