‘All Shook Up’ was rockin’.
Shaking their tail feathers to the beats of Elvis Presley, Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre have rocked the stage with their latest production, ‘All Shook Up’. The training academy, which forms a branch of Harvest Rain Theatre Company, has worked extensively through COVID-19 restrictions, even hosting some rehearsals online, to don their finest blue suede shoes and welcome audiences back into the theatre.
Essentially a jukebox musical full of Presley’s infamous hits, ‘All Shook Up’ weaves together his popular songs in a tongue-in-cheek storyline adapted from William Shakespeare’s work, ‘Twelfth Night’. The year is 1955, and roust-a-bout, guitar-playing bikie, Chad (played by Cristian Robba-Colley) has rolled into a small-Midwestern town under the dictatorial thumb of the very conservative Mayor Matilda Hyde (played by Annabelle Weaver). With “loud music, public necking and tight pants” outlawed, Chad shakes things up and, in turn, rocks the lives of the town’s many residents, in particular, Natalie (played by Claire Sutton), who dresses up as ‘one of the guys’ to be noticed by Chad.
While this musical isn’t relatively well-known to all audience-goers, it did premiere on Broadway back in 2005, surviving a relatively short run of two years. It later reopened on West End in 2015, undergoing a name change to ‘Love Me Tender’. Despite these fun facts, Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre’s latest showing highlights all there is to love about this quirky and tenderly written musical by Joe DiPietro.
The staging of ‘All Shook Up’ transformed Hayward Street Studios into a pop-art parlour, influenced strongly by Andy Warhol and a pastel palette. With cartoon styled cut-outs becoming buses, entranceways and additional set pieces, the minimalist style aided the large cast in many dance numbers and the various scenes in the show. Set Designer, Kelsey Todd, chose bright colours, which complimented the 1950s costumes styled by Nataleigh Kuru. A clever effect that enhanced both designers’ visions was the quick-changes, where actors started off in monochrome outfits, and then quite magically whipped into more colourful costumes right before the audience’s eyes. It was a clever trick that really emphasised the vibrant joy of music.
Director and choreographer, Callum Mansfield, showcased his ability for fluid movement and seamless transitions. Blocking was effectively nuanced and, within show-stopper numbers, the group came to life with impressive dance moves. Mansfield incorporated the right level of background action, which made scenes feel fuller, especially in the presence of the show’s dedicated ensemble.
Music Direction by Dennett Hudson was appropriately arranged, and did justice to Presley’s plethora of work. Highlights included the musical mash-up of “Hound Dog” against “Teddy Bear”, where these two hits were pitted in a smooth-talking battle of the sexes, “That’s All Right”, “Devil in Disguise” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, which concluded Act One with the entire town searching for someone to love. Speaking of something to love, the production team of ‘All Shook Up’ easily visualised the big picture. As such, the combined elements of direction, song, design and dance really came together, effortlessly blending into a slick and fun-filled performance.
As the hip-shaking, pelvis thrusting, Presley-personality, Chad, Cristian Robba-Colley was dynamite. With a chiselled smile, reaffirmed masculinity and smooth moves, Robba-Colley progressed through many numbers, and in a role that suited his vocal ability. A standout moment was in “I Don’t Want To”, where his character realises he’s in love with his sidekick. Also leading the show was Claire Sutton, who showed her amusing versatility as both Natalie and Ed. Sutton had both a sassy and sweet side to her performance and in “A Little Less Conversation”, where Ed tries to learn how to seduce a woman, she was particularly comical.
Kurt Myhill was another standout actor in his role as the nerdy and shy Dennis. He superbly personified the stereotypical character and had the audience on his side for the entire production. Other memorable performances came from Emma Buckman as the beautiful and intelligent, Miss Sandra; Marguerite Du Plessiss as the youthful love seeking, Lorraine, who also had a Penny Pingleton zing about her; Nathan Wheeler as the conservative and militant, Dean; and Victoria Roberts as the mature, bartending single mother, Sylvia.
A lot of the show’s comedy landed in the hands of sourpuss Mayor Matilda Hyde, played by Annabelle Weaver. She embodied the “bad-guy” role from head to toe, and was quick to reprimand a city breaking the rules. Together with the doting Sheriff Earl, played by Torin Cook, Weaver had a laugh a minute. Also of note, and while only a small bit part, Phoebe Lovell embraced her feature ensemble role and really shone in her moments.
‘All Shook Up’ is the perfect escape from isolation and catapults audiences back into the colourful world of musical theatre. The cast and production team should be proud of their abilities to turn digital rehearsals into a rocking, toe-tapping live performance. Some say long live the king (of rock ‘n’ roll). We say, long live musical theatre at the Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre. Book your tickets – it’s quite literally now or never as they’re selling fast!
‘All Shook Up’ performs until Saturday, 19 September 2020 at Hayward Street Studios in Stafford. For ticketing information visit Hayward Street Studio’s Website.
Photography by Steph Sanders (Let Me Wander Photography)