Fun cast sparkles despite shaky plot

Special to The Times

Musical Theatre West has scored a coup in securing the first U.S. regional rights to "All Shook Up," the Broadway musical, book by Joe DiPietro, that cobbles the songs of Elvis Presley into theatrical form. Whether the end product justifies the means is another matter.

DiPietro's story -- what little there is of it -- is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." Set in the pivotal rock year 1955, "All Shook Up" gyrates around the pelvis-thrusting Chad (Derek Keeling), an Elvis-like roustabout who travels the country "spreading . . . lovin'." Of course, Chad's arrival in a drab small town frees its repressed inhabitants from the bounds of middle-class morality. The town works some unexpected magic on Chad as well.

A sort of rock 'n' roll Johnny Appleseed, Chad has so much music in him that he repairs broken-down jukeboxes with his mere touch. That's DiPietro's ironic nod to the fact that he has constructed one of the flimsiest jukebox musicals in memory.

By definition, a jukebox musical recycles the songs of an existing musical artist or group into a musical narrative, a la "Mamma Mia!" or "Jersey Boys," more durable examples of the genre. With "Shook," one senses the producers were more interested in a reliable cash machine than artistic expression. And indeed, in the current production at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, you put your nickel in and get your full quotient of entertainment. But the show's innate appeal cannot wholly dispel the whiff of cynicism behind its manufactured diversion.

But a gig's a gig, and director Steven Glaudini, choreographer Lee Martino and musical director Michael Borth set out to wrest the maximum quotient of style from the general trumpery. Supported by a talented cast, which blazes through this paper-thin vehicle like arsonists in an origami factory, they largely succeed.

And, when it comes to these performers, what's not to like? Keeling, a finalist in NBC's reality series "Grease: You're the One That I Want," is that rarity seldom seen since the days of Cary Grant -- namely, a hunky guy who can play comedy. A terrific singer who captures Elvis' sound without parody, Keeling is well balanced by delightful Bets Malone as Natalie, a tomboy who dons men's attire to get close to the elusive Chad.

Gwen Stewart regularly raises the rafters with her gospel-styled vocals, rubber-faced Barry Pearl gets a bumper crop of belly laughs, and comically vampish Tracy Lore seems ready to pose on the nearest subway grating.

Other standouts include Danny Calvert, Sabrina N. Sloan, Tristan Rumer, Cynthia Ferrer and John Massey, all integral to the fun. Studies in forced perspective, David Rockwell's original Broadway sets are stunning, the 50-carat jewel box surrounding this glitzy bagatelle.

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'All Shook Up'

Where: Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, 6200 Atherton St., Cal State Long Beach campus

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Also 2 p.m. March 1 and 2 and 8 p.m. March 8, 2 p.m. only on March 9

Ends: March 9

Price: $25 to $41

Contact: (562) 856-1999, Ext. 4

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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