Review: In Good Company’s frothy ‘All Shook Up,’ the King and the Bard team up to celebrate the sauciness of the ’50s

By Heather Parish

When the Elvis-themed jukebox musical “All Shook Up” haphazardly uses devices from Shakespearean comedies to string together the thinnest of plots, I have to ask, “Who thought this was a good idea?” Upon reflection, though, I realized that The Bard and The King do have something in common: a long track record of shaking things up.

Thus the title; hence the name!

Elvis combined his smooth baritone, sex-charged stage presence, and keen ear for musical influences across color lines into a career that sent young people into a frenzy, opening the door to the social revolution of the 1960s (primarily for middle-class white audiences). Shakespeare’s comedies depend upon young people shaking up a repressive social system, running off to experience a romantic mania in the wilderness, and returning to reform their families and communities.

And that, when you look past the neon glow of the jukebox, is what “All Shook Up” is shooting for in its own accessible way.

Good Company Players’ production, playing at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through July 9, is a frothy, fizzy, sweet treat of empty calories straight from the soda fountain of the Elvis songbook. Well-sung by a mostly young ensemble and peppered with charming moments from the principal cast, this is a crowd-pleaser for fans of mid-America nostalgia.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with “The Music Man” or “Footloose” can see where things are headed here: Chad (Xavier Gonzalez), a rebel complete with motorbike and blue suede shoes, arrives in a small, unnamed town that is in a romance rut. A “decency proclamation,” decreed by the town’s uptight mayor (Jenna Erickson), forbids dancing, public displays of affection, and general fun. Chad uses his swivel-hips and Cherry Coke voice to teach the townspeople to live it up a little. This sends everyone from a sweet garage mechanic (Erin Brown) to her widowed dad (Eric Bako) headed down the path of romantic tomfoolery.


Joe DiPietro, who wrote the “All Shook Up” book, is the scribe of community theater favorites “Over the River and Through the Woods” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” “All Shook Up” fits in tidily with those titles. The plot is barely there, and most of the characters are stock figures, loosely drawn. The comedy is full of corny jokes and callback gags, but the enjoyable, and at times quite beautiful, arrangements of the Elvis Presley songbook compensate for that.

Co-directors Elizabeth Fiester and Steve Souza make the most of the small stage, keeping the entire ensemble in sync and creatively solving a few staging problems along the way. The ensemble sings the heck out of “Heartbreak Hotel” at the top of the first act, which sets the tone for the rest of the story. Souza’s choreography is fun and poppy, but the vocals are the star.

Some delightful performances include Tim Smith as awkward geek Dennis and London Garcia as Miss Sandra, with her brainy va-va-voom factor, along with Malinda Asbury, Kyndall Graham and Juliana Richardson as the “Trio” of kicky backups with a knack for well-timed entrances. Brown and Gonzalez do a fine job with their leading roles, which they sing very well, but their performances come off as a bit one-note. I suspect that may be more the fault of the book than the actors. “All Shook Up” was written in 2005, and some of the gags and plot elements are teetering on the edge of cringe, but the production manages to glide over them.

Standing head and shoulders above it all is perennial favorite Janet Glaude as Sylvia, the cynical bar owner who has to face her hidden romantic feelings with the powerful and affecting number “There’s Always Me.” Glaude brings depth and groundedness to the production with this one number that is worth the price of admission.

“All Shook Up” was never intended to challenge the status quo of an oppressive society or overturn the norms of musical theater. Still, it does remind audiences of the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, turning off the nasty judge in your head, and loving who you love. If that sounds like a worthwhile night at the theatre to you, then hie thee hence to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater and shake things up a bit.

In the before-times, Heather Parish was the founding director of The New Ensemble Theater Group in Fresno, artistic director of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, and executive producer for Fresno’s Rogue Performance Festival. She is now a recovering thespian and cheery misanthrope scribbling indie zines and defending to the death the importance of accessible libraries. Heather still believes that creating or attending theater is one of the best means of living an examined life.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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