Reviews/Musical Theatre

A hunk of burning fun

11 July 2023

It’s now or never. Take your Elvis loving friends and family to All Shook Up and you’ll all have a ball, writes Julie Hosking. 

All Shook Up, HAMA Productions 
Crown Theatre, 8 July 2023 

It’s a battle between the hound dogs and the teddy bears. Sort of. For in this endearing musical, no one is quite sure whether they are one or the other.  

Cupid’s arrow is swinging around faster than Elvis’s hips, hitting almost everyone in sight, and rendering them incapable of behaving rationally. 

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (though there’s more than a nod to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and flashes of Footloose), All Shook Up is built around the songs of Elvis Presley. It’s set in a small American town in 1956 where inter-racial relationships are forbidden, LGBTQI is just a series of letters and even “public necking” is considered sacrilegious thanks to the uptight mayor. 

No, that’s not all right with Mama, Sylvia tells Lorraine and Dennis in ‘All Shook Up’. Photo: Anthony Tran

Into this suppressed landscape rides Chad (John Berry), an uber-cool Presley clone with the leather jacket and pelvic gymnastics to match. Local mechanic Natalie (Mia Simonette) is instantly smitten but when it becomes evident Chad is only interested in her skills with a wrench, his motorbike stranding him in Hicksville, she goes to extraordinary lengths to win his heart.  

Chad, meanwhile, falls head over heels for another newcomer to town, smoking hot museum caretaker Sandra (Emma Haines), and enlists nerdy Dennis (Tate Bennett), who has been pining after Natalie since the dawn of time, to win her heart.  

Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected by Sandra’s considerable charms. Natalie’s father Jim (Brendan Hanson) has also awoken from his widowed slumber, oblivious to the woman right under his nose. Mind you, bar owner Sylvia (Paula Parore) has other concerns – daughter Lorraine (Jade Baynes) is keen on the mayor’s son, Dean (Joshua Firman) and she expresses her displeasure in a slight reworking of early Presley hit That’s All Right

And it’s those everlasting songs that tie all the lovesick shenanigans together. From the opening Jailhouse Rock through to Burning Love, this is a high-energy production that demands a lot from its performers. 

Sandra and Chad duel on ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Teddy Bear’ as Natalie and Dennis look on. Photo: Anthony Tran

Western Australia’s HAMA Productions have chosen wisely, with a cast that not only has the vocal chops but the foot skills, too. All Shook Up also serves as a celebration of the depth of local talent, from the lustrous leads – Berry invests his bad boy with just the right amount of swagger, while WAAPA graduate Simonette shows considerable range – to the superlative supporting cast. 

Parore lives up to the Queen of Perth Soul label, investing so much into songs such as There’s Always Me and Can’t Help Falling in Love that we can almost feel her heart breaking. Similarly, WAAPA graduate Bennett’s heart-wrenching It Hurts Me puts the audience firmly in Dennis’s corner. At the other end of the spectrum, WAAPA graduate Taneel Van Zyl as self-proclaimed moral compass Mayor Matilda Hyde delivers a delicious Devil in Disguise, played for considerable laughs. 

With so many great Presley tracks, every cast member gets more than one moment to shine, including on some delightful duets – Baynes and Firman deliver a touching It’s Now or Never (with a nice nod to equal rights), while recent WAAPA graduate Haines takes charge with Hound Dog in a fabulous face-off with Berry’s (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear

In his WA directorial debut, Vincent Hooper (yet another WAAPA graduate) marshals the many moving parts with panache and Thern Reynolds’ choreography, particularly on the ensemble numbers, is first class. Bryan Woltjen’s set morphs from jailhouse to mechanic’s shop to Sylvia’s honkytonk bar with ease, spotlighted dancers providing distraction as pieces are swivelled or slid off stage.  

The lovestruck leads make their case in the abandoned fairground in ‘All Shook Up’. Photo: Anthony Tran

The second act’s simple but evocative fairground attraction, where protagonists tie themselves in knots trying to win hearts, is particularly effective – the use of wooden dodgems for Natalie/Ed’s attempted seduction of a confused Chad on A Little Less Conversation one of many clever choices. 

All Shook Up is full of movement, colour and joy and, of course, marvellous music. The story is incredibly cheesy but delivered with a wink and a nod to the audience that says everyone is in on the joke. Take your Elvis lovin’ parent or grandparent, and you’ll go home happy, too. 

All Shook Up is at Crown Theatre until 23 July 2023. 

Pictured top: John Berry shows he’s no slouch on his feet either as he sings ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in the opening of ‘All Shook Up’. Photo: Anthony Tran

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

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