All Shook Up

Written by Mike Schulz, River Cities Reader.

With marvelous accompaniment provided by Seth Ward Pyatt's backstage orchestra, All Shook Up is...two hours of nearly undiluted pleasure, from Banta's endearing cloddishness to Koloszar's touching underplaying to Doughty's happily empty-headed honesty.

The Kings and I: "All Shook Up," at the Timber Lake Playhouse

Written by Mike Schulz .

No one in his or her right mind could possibly think that the Elvis Presley pastiche All Shook Up, the new presentation at the Timber Lake Playhouse, is a stronger piece of theatre than West Side Story or You Can't Take It with You, the first two presentations in the venue's 2008 season.

But whatever you do, do not, for the love of Pete, tell this to the performers in Timber Lake's latest, who are attacking this goofy lark with such impassioned zeal that you'd think they were enacting Shakespeare. (And, it turns out, they oftentimes are.)

The show itself, which fashions a wildly complicated musical romance out of nearly two dozen Elvis hits, is a perfectly enjoyable piece of slaphappy silliness. Yet under the invigoratingly imaginative direction of Brad Lyons, the All Shook Up cast is less electric than thermonuclear; in comparison, Timber Lake's collective ensemble may as well have been performing Leonard Bernstein and Kaufman & Hart in straitjackets.

Despite the talents involved, I'll admit to being apprehensive about this particular offering, because not only (blasphemy alert) have I never been a big fan of the King's output, but the first few scenes here - well-played though they were on Thursday night - didn't exactly fill me with hope for All Shook Up as a whole. The show begins with the motorcycle-riding Elvis stand-in, Chad (Brandon Ford), being released from prison (cue the song "Jailhouse Rock"), and continues with the residents of a small Midwestern town bemoaning their romantic woes (cue "Heartbreak Hotel"), and continues with Chad's public explanation for his bad-boy attitude (cue "Roustabout"), and before the production was 15 minutes old, the cutesiness, to say nothing of the obviousness, was already tiresome; add the references to Chad's "burnin' love" and the sight of his blue suede shoes, and we seemed in for a two-act version of a rather lame theme-park revue.

You Can't Take It With You

Written by Ruby Nancy,

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is one of the most-produced plays in theaters around the country, and it is easy to see why.

A host of characters – and I mean real characters – and sweet romance and potential in-laws and outwitting the IRS are just the high points of this crowd-pleasing comedy. Set in the summer of 1936, there are lots of period-specific things that are fun, plus the show features a few pets and a class-clashing setup that is just made for laughs.

Of course, it helps to have a fine cast and top-notch tech to pull off this simply sweet – but far from simple to produce and direct – menagerie of a show. And this Timber Lake show has plenty of fine actors and some great design and tech, so the latest version of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU to hit a stage in this region is a really wonderful show.

In particular, scenic designer Joseph C. Heitman (assisted by Tamar S. Daskin) has outdone himself with a gorgeously rendered period set that consists of the Vanderhof-Sycamore family home and the street outside its front door. It is lovely and inviting, and totally comfortable.

Lighting designer Brian Hoehne floods the house with a soft shine, gives us ambient glow from the street when the lights are off, and lets the outdoor light match the time of day – all without us hardly noticing, because he does so in such a natural way. Properties designer Melissa Mattingly Parsons has a whale of a job here, with the multitude of props required for this show, and she has absolutely everything required. Again, this complete attention to detail pays off in what you don’t notice, because everything is just as it should be.

Plenty of performances shine up this show, too, including Jeremy Day’s just-grand-enough Mr. Kolenkhov and Kelli Koloszar’s cheerful, curvaceous Essie. Samantha Dubina is superb as the daffy mom of this eccentric family, Penelope, and Matthew Griffin’s turn as Donald is a complete stitch, delivering his stereotypical lines with an outsized carelessness that borders on perfectly-timed cheek.

As Grandpa, the cheerfully stress-free patriarch, Robert Maher is excellence personified – giving the role a simple authenticity that has plenty of appeal. Heather Herkelman (as Alice, the daughter whose love life is at the center of the story) and Nick Toussaint (as Tony Kirby, Alice’s beau) make a good-looking couple, and their post-date scene is gentle and romantic in a perfectly old-fashioned way.

Altogether a thoroughly fantastic production, this YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, but you surely want to see it just the same.