I love the latest show at Moline’s Spotlight Theatre so much, I can’t stop shaking.
The Elvis jukebox musical “All Shook Up” – with an actually solid, while super silly script – is the most fun, entertaining, purely joyful musical I’ve seen anywhere in a LONG time. (Spotlight’s “Little Shop of Horrors” ranks up there.)
If you’re looking for a bountiful bunch of bliss and stress relief, this is the perfect antidote. During the Sunday afternoon performance opening weekend, I basically had a goofy grin on my face the entire time.
There is simply not a weak link in this staggeringly impressive musical machine. It’s firing with flair and finesse on every single cylinder.
Directed by Max Moline, with musical direction by Trent Teske and choreography by Robyn Messerly, the blazingly talented “All Shook Up” cast features Becca Johnson and Brycen Witt as leads Natalie and Chad; Matt Downey as Jim, Sara Wegener as Sylvia, Krianna Walljasper as Lorraine, Brian Heffernan as Dennis, Abby Bastian as Miss Sandra, Pam Cantrell as Mayor Matilda Hyde, Jorge Mendez as Dean Hyde, and Nancy Teerlinck as Sheriff Earl.
“All Shook Up,” based on the music of Elvis Presley, originally played six months on Broadway in 2005, and has had runs at Music Guild in Moline (2009) and Circa ’21 in Rock Island (2011).
In the nostalgic show — positively bursting with love and energy — it’s 1955, and into a square little town rides a supremely confident, guitar-playing young man who changes everything and everyone he meets.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this hip-swiveling, lip-curling musical fantasy is packed with such classics as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
Style to spare
Leading the cast with style to spare is the amazing Brycen Witt as Chad, the Elvis stand-in. This is already his 50th production, which included a hilarious Carmen Ghia in “The Producers” last fall at Spotlight.
In addition to his tremendous singing and dancing skills, Witt nails the winking humor of “All Shook Up,” which both satirizes and adores its lovable characters — there are love triangles galore here, a complex geometric cornucopia, in which everyone is looking for their true soul mate. With his tight black pants (exposing white socks), lithe and light on his feet, Witt’s graceful moves reminded me more of Michael Jackson than Elvis.
As the dreaming girl Natalie, who loves Chad, Becca Johnson shines and fulfills her own dreams in this dual role (for most of the show, Natalie disguises herself as the guy Ed to become close to Chad). Johnson played the same part as a high schooler in 2010 for Rock Island’s Center for Living Arts, and she’s just about the most relatable one in the new production.
It’s also a special show (well, in every way) for 2021 Moline High graduates Krianna Walljasper (Lorraine) and Amber Whitaker (ensemble). In March 2020, Krianna played Natalie and Amber was Lorraine in the MHS production that was performed just once for the public, before being shut down by COVID. It must be so satisfying for them to let loose in this new production — their enthusiasm (like the entire cast) is darn infectious.
As Natalie’s dad (and auto garage owner) Jim, Matt Downey is also sympathetic, and after pursuing the haughty Sandra (a strong Abby Bastian), shares a sweet affection with the sarcastic Sylvia (a wonderful Sara Wegener). These two dominant women are highlighted in big solos, “Let Yourself Go” and “There’s Always Me,” respectively.
Brian Heffernan, an Augie senior, is an appealing, wiry, physical comedian, very funny as Chad’s budding sidekick Dennis, who pines for Natalie. Pam Cantrell also is a hoot as the mayor who wants to shut down all this boisterous roustabout-ness, as is her mostly mute sidekick, Nancy Teerlinck as Sheriff Earl (who has a climactic, plot-spinning speech at the end). Jorge Mendez is an ideal love interest as Dean, for Lorraine.
One of many dance highlights features Cantrell, “Devil in Disguise,” with female devils and angels — fittingly with poodle logos on their red, and white, poodle skirts.
Exuberant, relentless energy
The exuberant group numbers here are worth the price of admission alone — the crack 11-piece band (including six brass) behind the set adds to the relentless energy. “Heartbreak Hotel,” “C’mon Everybody,” “That’s All Right,” “It’s Now Or Never,” “All Shook Up,” “If I Can Dream” and the closer “Burning Love” all raise the roof in the former Scottish Rite Cathedral.
My favorite, an emotional wallop in the show is the first act finale — “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which also features the whole company. It shows how each of the characters are madly in love, and in characteristic Spotlight fashion (such as the reverent opening to “Sound of Music”), the actors are spread out among the audience. That literally brings the beautiful ballad close to home.
The cast’s uniformly strong vocals are enhanced with a blessedly new theater sound system, which makes it easy to hear everyone. When your ensemble (!) includes Kirsten Sindelar, Noah Hill and Amelia Fischer — who all have had lead roles in the area — you know you’ve got a killer show.
At Spotlight, “All Shook Up” performances will continue at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25, and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., Feb. 26. Tickets cost $22 for general seating and $27 for table seating, available at the Spotlight website HERE.