Fall Musical Leaves Audiences Shook

Disclaimer: The content of this article contains potential spoilers for those who have not yet seen “All Shook Up.” The show will be playing on Nov. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. on both nights.

The LHS Theatre Department’s performance of the musical “All Shook Up” is an absolutely delightful rendition of the original Broadway show, engaging from the first minute to the very last.

The show is set in a small “you’ve-never-heard-of-it” town in the summer of 1955 and stars a leather-jacketed roustabout named Chad (played by senior Albert Sterner), who comes and quite literally shakes up the town with the power of magic and music, which was repressed by its conservative mayor prior to his arrival. There, Chad meets the town’s mechanic, Natalie Haller (played by junior Rachel Erdmann), who almost immediately falls in love with him. 

The plot of the show is centered primarily around Natalie’s pursuit of Chad but also features the romantic pursuits of other townspeople, which overlap in a hilariously complex web of amorous escapades. The curtains open prior to Chad’s initial arrival to the town, diving straight into the musical’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock.” This number captures the audience right from the get-go; Sterner’s energetic performance transforms the drab jailhouse into a place brimming with pizzazz and celebration with the assistance of the ensemble, who fly across the stage in a lively dance to accompany the song.

Next, the audience is introduced to the idiosyncratic array of townspeople and the one thing that they all have in common: their loneliness. The number “Heartbreak Hotel” is set in the town’s bar, Sylvia’s Honky Tonk. The depressing tone of the song is maintained by the monochromes of the cast’s costumes and downtrodden behaviors of the ensemble. The audience meets Sylvia (played by junior Mary Piedrahita), the independent and sassy owner of the Honky Tonk, as well as her daughter Lorraine (played by senior Sarah Donofrio), who dreams of finding love, much to the dismay of her mother. Introduced here is also Natalie’s father Jim (played by senior Matthew Pavlik), who is still mourning the loss of his wife, and Dennis (played by senior Jason Sekili), an awkward young man secretly in love with Natalie.

When Chad arrives in town, he is sporting his classic leather jacket, blue suede shoes and song in his heart. Chad is said to have been going town to town, spreading his love of music to all. He makes quick work of the town’s dreary atmosphere, swiftly sending the townspeople into a jubilant frenzy of song. One of “All Shook Up’s” great strengths — besides the performance of the actors — is their use of costumes and set devices. During the song “C’mon Everybody,” the costumes of the ensemble and townspeople change from monochromatic to popping with bright hues of yellow, blue and red, an immediate visual representation of Chad’s effect on the town. Chad asks Natalie to help him with his motorbike, and when Natalie tells him about her dreams of finding a pure love, he tells her to “Follow That Dream” in the show’s next musical number. After this, Natalie attempts to find a way to win over Chad’s affections.

As all of this is going on, Lorraine and the mayor’s son Dean (played by senior William Anderson) fall in love with each other, despite the class differences between them. Dean is a young man who spent his youth at military boarding schools and has not once disobeyed his mother, Matilda Hyde (played by junior Abigail Gourley). Matilda represses the town through restrictive laws banning singing and “public necking,” among other things. She serves as the main antagonist throughout the story, attempting to keep the town and its people stringently in line with her strict rules. Both Dean and Lorraine’s mothers disapprove of their relationships, inspiring the couple to run away so they can be together.

To add to the tangle of romances, Dennis, in an attempt to win over Natalie, becomes Chad’s sidekick, hoping that being more like the roustabout will make Natalie fall for him. However, Chad becomes infatuated with a woman named Miss Sandra (played by senior Jessica Schrag), who is the caretaker of the town’s museum. Natalie decides that the best way to get closer to Chad is to become his friend first, so she dresses up as a man named Ed and replaces Dennis as his sidekick. Chad, hearing about Miss Sandra’s appreciation for fine arts and literature, sends Ed to give her a Shakespearean sonnet as a profession of his love. This gesture is grossly misunderstood and Miss Sandra instead falls in love with Ed.

Following this, Ed reports back to Chad with news of Sandra’s true feelings, to which Chad responds by asking Ed to teach him how to really seduce a woman. Tense moments ensue, where Ed actually kisses Chad, resulting in the roustabout falling for Ed.  

Jim has also been pursuing Miss Sandra and complains of unrequited love after he finds out that Miss Sandra actually has feelings for Ed. Sylvia also admits her love to Jim, spurred after their kiss in Jim’s wave of excitement to pursue romance for the first time after his wife’s death. Jim leaves her alone after this, claiming that he needs space. Similarly, Chad, who says he needs space to figure out his feelings for Ed, runs to the town’s deserted fairgrounds, where Lorraine and Dean are also hiding.

After some heartfelt reflection, the story comes to an end when Matilda confronts Lorraine and Dean, while Chad, Dennis, Jim, Natalie (as Ed) and Sylvia look on. In a shocking turn of events, Matilda’s bodyguard, a sheriff named Earl (played by junior Johnny Thames) confesses his love to Matilda, shocking her to such an extent that she rethinks her repressive governance over the town. The show culminates in a wedding scene celebrating the union of Dennis and Miss Sandra, Sylvia and Jim, and Matilda and Earl. In the middle of the scene, Chad returns and professes his love to Natalie, who tells him that she won’t marry him and instead invites him to “hit the open roads” with her on her motorbike, a nice callback to the number “Follow That Dream.”

On the whole, “All Shook Up” was an absolute delight to watch. Particularly striking was the show’s use of costumes as a thematic element, an example being the contrast between Chad’s ensemble of all black and the mayor’s entirely white attire as a way to represent the two characters’ deeply opposing belief systems regarding the way the town should be run. Also, the scene where Sandra falls in love with Ed is set in a museum, where the statues are played by actual people in facepaint and glittering costumes of silver and gold. The statues hold completely still for the majority of the scene but come to life at the apex of the intense song “Let Yourself Go,” performed by Miss Sandra to win over Ed. This was not only incredibly visually interesting but also a creative use of the ensemble to quite literally bring the set to life. 

The tone of the narrative moves in extremes, a perfect balance of joyous and fun ballads about love and emotional scenes of confession. This is executed masterfully by the cast, a significant example shown in Sylvia’s progression as a character. At the beginning of the show, she is portrayed to be a tough and independent woman, frequently cracking one-liners garnering a cacophony of laughter from the audience. However, as things progress, she falls in love with Jim and learns to embrace a softer side of herself, culminating in an emotional rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” accompanied by the rest of the ensemble. This number was particularly touching, as many audience members were moved to tears by Piedrahita’s incredible performance.

The show also excels in its comedy, exemplified in lines like “Everything you do makes me sweaty!” and “A man doesn’t leave when he’s threatened, a man hides; where can I hide?” both delivered by Sterner. A running gag throughout the show was whenever a character falls in love with another, the moment is marked by a freeze-frame effect and an individual rendition of “One Night With You.” All of these comedic touches come together to make the show that much more enjoyable.

Sekili’s portrayal of Dennis was also extremely entertaining. He captured the character completely, from his nerdy verbal inflections to the over-the-top nervousness of his physical mannerisms. One of the great strengths of this production was how aptly the roles were cast, Sekili being a prime example. 

The voices of the cast and ensemble were incredible, particularly Erdmann’s performances as Natalie. She had to perform songs as Natalie herself but also as Ed, which was done in an impressively smooth and believable fashion. Additionally, Sterner’s performance of Chad required him to sing in almost all numbers, but his performance never wavered in its strength and potency. 

Overall, the Theatre Department put on a fantastic rendition of “All Shook Up,” from the stunning visuals of the costumes and the set to the vivid story told through the incredible voices of the cast and ensemble. The show is also playing on Nov. 1-2 (at 7:30 p.m. both nights) in the auditorium and is definitely worth the watch.