Zilker Theatre Productions' All Shook Up

Take Elvis at his silliest, mix in Twelfth Night, stir playfully, and you have the latest Zilker Summer Musical

(l-r) Joey Banks as Dennis, Andrew Cannata as Chad, and Josey Pickett as Sandra in All Shook Up (photo by Suzanne McBride)

Elvis has been sighted in Austin.

Not the early Elvis of Sun Records and not the late Elvis of the Vegas Strip, but the Elvis no one likes to talk about: the middle Elvis of Hollywood, the star of all those cheesy Sixties rom-coms in which he played a devil-may-care deckhand/rodeo rider/racecar driver who also happened to be a terrific singer and whose prickly romance with some fetching, feisty lass (Ann-Margret/Shelley Fabares/Nancy Sinatra) would be interrupted by a carefully calibrated series of songs (defined by lyricist Jerry Leiber as "three ballads, one medium-tempo [number], one up-tempo, and one break blues boogie"). Hit the Hillside for the 60th annual Zilker Summer Musical and you, too, can see this least-respected of the King's incarnations, and that's not a bad thing, not by a long shot.

For in penning the book for the Elvis jukebox musical All Shook Up, writer Joe DiPietro knew how cheesecloth-thin the plots in Presley's pictures were, and he had some fun with them here, tweaking their tropes of love at first sight, romantic rivalries, Elvis' sidekick, and the King's incomparable cool factor for comic effect. Sporting a name lifted from Blue Hawaii, our Elvis proxy Chad has a forced layover in an unnamed Midwestern town thanks to a plot device swiped from Roustabout (a motorcycle in need of repair). That allows enough time for fetching, feisty Natalie to want Chad for her teddy bear, for Chad to start itchin' like a man on a fuzzy tree over museum caretaker Sandra, and for a whole daisy chain of attractions to erupt among the otherwise humdrum townsfolk. To complicate their passionate pursuits further, DiPietro mixes in an interracial romance and some Shakespearean cross-dressing – since Chad won't give Natalie a second look, she becomes "Ed" as a way to get next to him – and before you can say "Twelfth Night," Sandra falls for Ed and Chad starts having feels for a guy like he's never had before. It's considerably more convoluted than anything Elvis had to handle in Clambake or Tickle Me, but it's also considerably more playful and fun to follow than anything in those pictures.

Taking his cue from the script, Zilker Theatre Productions Artistic Director J. Robert Moore makes playful this show's watchword. He's encouraged his actors to embrace their stock characters and the schtick that goes with them, the result being an ensemble of lively, good-humored performers who never shy away from a gag, no matter how corny. Just note the enthusiasm with which every actor whose character is suddenly smitten bursts into song – the same song: "One night with you!" Or the way everyone calls Chad "Roustabout" like it's his name. ("What're you doing here, Roustabout?") As Chad, Andrew Cannata steers clear of most of the King's obvious signifiers (the lip curl, the drawl, the hair combing), though he does give his pelvis the Elvis workout. More importantly, he sends up the ego of the rebel who knows how cool he is; Cannata's Chad is just full enough of himself to be funny, which makes losing his cool over Ed all the funnier.

Equally comic is Heather Capello in her discomfort as Ed being chased by Sandra (Josey Pickett, working Ann-Margret's Viva Las Vegas territory, but with the smarts and glamour of Christina Hendricks in Mad Men). Capello's balance of yearning for Chad and alarm at Sandra is just what you'd hope for in a disguised Viola in Twelfth Night, which makes sense since she's played that role before. But her Natalie is also so adorable that we see why guy pal Dennis is carrying a torch for her. Between the unrequited love and the sidekick comedy, Dennis is a plum role, and Joey Banks draws all the juice from it in a sly, delightful turn. More forceful is Sue Breland's decency-obsessed mayor, who's as subtle as the bullhorn she bellows through and who could stare down Ethel Merman. But it's spot on for the part, and when she launches into "Devil in Disguise" with a pink electric guitar and full angel wings, Breland rocks the Hillside.

Which reminds me, Presley purists: Don't expect to hear Elvis' songs performed here as the King did them. This being a jukebox musical (accent on "musical"), they've been arranged to sound more like show tunes. Still, music director Lyn Koenning and her band succeed in giving these old favorites some appealing new sounds. Listening to Michelle Alexander infuse "There's Always Me" with a shot of soul and Cannata and Jessica O'Brien turn up the gospel power on "If I Can Dream" are joys to be lingered on. Indeed, add them to the other pleasures in Zilker's All Shook Up, and you may wish your motorcycle had broken down, Roustabout, so you were forced to stay here longer.

All Shook Up

Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, 2206 William Barton Dr., 512/479-9491
Through Aug. 18
Running time: 2 hr., 35 min.

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Zilker Theatre Productions, Zilker Summer Musical, J. Robert Moore, Lyn Koenning, Andrew Cannata, Heather Capello, Josey Pickett, Joey Banks, Michelle Alexander, Jessica O'Brien, Sue Breland, Elvis Presley

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