Jukebox musicals have the interesting tendency to truly polarise theatregoers. On the one hand – these productions, filled to the brim with the discography of a particular popular artist or group, have the ability to reel in audience members that would not otherwise willingly attend or enjoy a piece of musical theatre. Additionally, the familiarity of the songs has the potential to maintain audience engagement and invoke interest. In saying that however, jukebox musicals might also be taken as gimmicky and poorly constructed – as if narrative and heart should be compromised to fit yet another of the artists’ songs into the show. It is then very much up to the performance of the piece that denotes its success. If ARC were looking to provide a quaint, good night out and inject a little fun into the audience through this jukebox experience, then they should be proud in their efforts to have achieved this. While the show did fall victim to some of those issues typical to a jukebox piece, the buzz of the audience and audible singing along as the exited the theatre is nothing to scoff at and should be taken as a badge of honour for all those involved in this production.
All Shook Up, as the title might suggest, has been constructed around the works of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. For those more astute theatregoers, one might also note the narrative’s link to Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’. It follows Natalie, a ‘grease monkey’ who falls in love with a ‘roustabout’ Chad, who new to the charming 1950s small town,. However, it is Natalie’s best friend Dennis who has true feelings for her, yet allows her to dress as a boy to impress the reclusive Chad (who is in love with a museum hostess, only to fall for Natalie’s alter ego, Ed). Confused? It’s all part of the fun.
ARC played on the small town theme by incorporating very modest and antiquated set pieces. While it should be noted that the colour scheme was very obviously intended to create a sort of ‘time-machine to the past’ mindset for the audience, it had the tendency to come across quite dull and uninviting against the lighting design. This was a real shame as the costuming choices, especially for the ensemble were incredibly vibrant and, although this might usually depict a nice contrast (or even mirror the narrative – happy carefree people stuck in a dead beat town), it instead came across a little lacklustre. While some lighting choices were incredibly captivating, most seemed a little uninspired and left wanting. Many times cast members were left unlit as well though this error in judgement was often remedied quite quickly, to the cast’s credit.
Choreography was simple yet effective and used the space well. Some songs called for a little more energy – particularly the title number however. Overall movement was era appropriate and audience appropriate. The ensemble was very capable and at times, largely animated, though they could have done with a little more consistency. Particularly impressive were the male ensemble members who showed a real commitment to their performances, especially in the heavier dance sequences. It was refreshing to see so many guys who were enthusiastic and genuinely talented tread the boards. In a time where it has, for whatever reason, become increasingly difficult to cast male performers in amateur theatre, let alone a cast full of them, it was refreshing to see.
The cast, especially the ensemble, were also particularly helpful in pushing the story along and maintaining the audience’s interest. As with many jukebox musicals, the ambition to include as many hit songs as possible often overrides the need for a strong storyline. In this instance, Act 1 felt as though it went for an eternity as the songs kept coming and it began to feel a little trivial. In saying this however, as yet another song began, it was the subtle facial expressions, body language, a wink here and a nudge there from the cast on stage that acknowledged the potential tackiness that created a comradery between audiences and cast. This then propelled the audience’s interest for many of the numbers. A special shout out must be given to ensemble member, Pasquale Bartalotta who had the audience in stitches of laughter on more than one occasion during numbers that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Whilst his performance could have very well created an unnecessary and unwanted distraction, audiences appeared to very much appreciate his humour and commitment which definitely helped to maintain their engagement.
The lead cast was exceptionally strong and included many familiar faces from Melbourne’s amateur theatre scene. Ryan Purdy as the ‘roustabout’ Chad was suave and encapsulated the 50s rock flare quite well. His comedic timing was entertaining and on point. Shannon Pendrey and Ashleigh Psaila played Natalie and Lorraine respectively with cute charisma and impressive vocals. Pendrey’s portrayal of Natalie’s male alter ego, Ed, was goofy and charming. She also did well to cover a microphone malfunction as she transformed into Ed on stage. Following subtle audience gasps, Pendrey kept a strong and unwavering stage presence on which was an effort to be applauded. Verity-Rose Brown offered audiences an ‘I Love Lucy-esque’ portrayal of the Mayor which was exceptionally engaging and at times hilariously portrayed.
A real highlight of this production was the performance provided by Nathan Slevin who played the nerdy yet charismatic Dennis. Slevin was exceptionally consistent and was able to truly tug on the heart strings of the audience. His ability to create little mannerisms and nuances exclusive to Dennis and maintain them throughout the production should be congratulated. It was, however, Slevin’s performance of ‘It Hurts Me’ that sealed the deal. His vocals were unfaltering and his passion was evident. I look forward to seeing him in future productions.
If you’re after a bit of fun and an excuse to get out of the house this weekend, ARC’s All Shook Up at the Banyule Theatre may just do the trick. Elvis fans will appreciate the music and theatregoers will enjoy the calibre of performances provided by the seasoned cast.