Arts Review: All Shook Up

Dir. Pete Robson, The Mitchell Theatre, 8th-11th Feb.

There’s a problem in an unnamed community in 1950s Small Town America. Mayor Matilda has declared the Marmie Eisenhower Decency Act and everybody in the town has forgotten how to cut loose and fall in love. The cure they don’t know they need is the following: singing, dancing, and pelvic thrusting. Enter Chad, a Christ-figure greaser reminiscent of Kevin Bacon in Footlose who rides into town to fix “broken down jukes, broken down people, [and] unsatisfied women.” Chad, played by the cheerful Aidan Dobson, overcomes Mayor Matilda, who is basically an evangelical Dolores Umbridge with her fascist pink suit and commitment to halting love in its tracks. All the girls in town fall for Chad, but when mechanic Natalie, played by Olivia Attwooll-Keith, begins her unrequited pursuit, a web of conflicting love interests ensues.

The opening scenes quickly set up the struggle between repressed youth itching to let go and love and cynical adults who are too afraid of their own feelings. In the second scene, one girl’s mother says “Girls like you don’t fall for guys like him.” But indeed they do. And in the next scene, girls in brown skirts spin around, the brown disappearing to reveal a cacophony of colors, symbolically throwing off the drabness imposed by their mayor.

The costumes and stage design set the mood perfectly. The backdrop is a small chapel on a hill and most of the scenes take place in the usual staples of small town dramas: the local honky-tonk, the gas station, and an abandoned amusement park. The script and acumen of the principal actors hit all the tropes of 1950s Small Town America without forcing all the characters and dialogue into tired caricatures. The leads’ talented and clearly well-rehearsed singing and dancing really do animate their characters’ struggles and emotions. The most memorable song is One Night, belted out anytime a character falls in love, which is very frequently. All Shook Up, which is a mash-up of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the best of Elvis Presley, is an endearingly kitsch story of people discovering their own authenticity in a world that doesn’t allow for difference.

The Cecillian Society’s musical is a feel-good experience, empirically speaking. There were far more happy aww’s than sad aww’s. If you agree with the profession that “forbidden love is the best” kind of love, then All Shook Up is for you.

[John Hogan]

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