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Mount production leaves audience `All Shook Up'.

Byline: James A. Karis II


Elvis is alive and well in Gardner, Massachusetts.

That's the venue for Theatre at the Mount's "All Shook Up," a musical inspired by The King, Elvis Presley.

While the show features a "greatest hits" collection of Presley's music, and mirrors his influence on American popular culture, it isn't a biography. There is no Elvis character or even an Elvis impersonator. "All Shook Up" does feature a rebellious, pelvis-gyrating character that resembles The King, around whom the story centers.

When the black leather-jacketed outsider named Chad (Nicholas Howe) comes rolling into a conservative small town on his motorcycle, he begins to shake things up with his message of free love and rock 'n' roll. As the lovely Natalie (Sarah Neslusan) falls for the stranger, the story follows the twists and turns of several overlapping love affairs, in Shakespearean comedic tradition.

In her Theatre at the Mount debut, Ms. Neslusan is a vibrant revelation. The actress delivers a charismatic performance both vocally and within the context of the story. Mr. Howe also does a fine job, pacing the show with energy and swagger. Shani Ferrell excels as Sylvia, while Chuck Berube provides laughs as Natalie's conflicted father, Jim.

With more than 30 members in the cast, including chorus and dancers, the choreography is smooth and uncrowded. Costumes for the men are straightforward, while the women's dresses are colorful, if not representative of female attire in a small town during the 1950s.

"All Shook Up" is a comprehensive retrospective of Elvis' musical legacy. The numbers include "Jailhouse Rock," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Teddy Bear," Love Me Tender," "Don't Be Cruel" and, naturally, "All Shook Up." Add several obscure selections and even diehards will have their memories tested. The list could have been trimmed (the show clocks in at well over two hours), but if you're an Elvis fan, the time will surely fly.

The theater's air conditioning apparently was not working on Friday night, as a dozen or more audience members could be seen fanning themselves with their programs at any given time, even on what was a relatively cool August evening.

Theatre at the Mount has a knack for producing low-risk, high-reward musicals. Could the company choose edgier, more avant-garde productions? Certainly. At the same time, there's something to be said for a theater that fills every seat in a mid-sized auditorium in the midst of a difficult economy.

"All Shook Up" doesn't break new ground, but it collects Elvis' essential hits and presents them in a well-executed musical package. On Friday, that was more than enough for a receptive and enthusiastic audience.

`All Shook Up'

* * *

Inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presley, book by Joe DiPietro, directed by Lorien Corbeletti, producing direction by Gail Steele, music direction by Dave Twiss, choreography by Nicole Couture. Performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Theatre at the Mount, 444 Green St., Gardner. With Sarah Neslusan, Nicholas Howe, Chuck Berube, Shani Ferrell, Amy Oldenquist and Justin McCoubry.

Key to the Stars

* * * * ... Hot Stuff

* * * ... Good Job

* * ... Not Bad

* ... Never Mind

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 12, 2009
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