Curtains: All Shook Up at Fountain Hills Community Theater

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I can't keep saying I don't like musicals when it turns out I enjoy myself at so many of them, so I guess I've processed whatever early trauma was getting in the way. Though I run into a clinker every now and then, our Valley has a lot of talented, fun, creative people working their little hineys off in musical theater, and it shows.

All Shook Up started to sound interesting when I found out it has a plot (because many shows featuring popular music that wasn't originally written for the show -- a.k.a. "jukebox" musicals -- are little more than tributes or revues). Not only that, some of the plot twists borrow from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, my favorite of the Bard's comedies, so I'm all over that, of course.

In this case, the hits of Elvis Presley provide the tuneful framework for multiple love stories that get resolved by the final curtain. Sometimes it's, yeah, a bit of a stretch, but Joe DiPietro's knowingly goofy book, along with the cast's tongues -- planted firmly in the cast's cheeks -- create a lighthearted mood that makes everything pretty much work.

It's sort of like the archetypical Elvis movie -- a drifter named Chad (who is also referred to as "that guitar-playin' roustabout") gets out of jail, hops on his motorcycle, and brings fun, music, and sex to a little town that suffers from Eisenhower-era dreariness imposed by its repressed, paranoid mayor (Sandy Gulledge). Sure, it sounds like Footloose, but guess what? Footloose sounds a lot like Twelfth Night. So there. And you won't be able to put together why, if loud music is against the law, the frumpy lady barflies of the supposedly music-free honky-tonk spontaneously burst into "Heartbreak Hotel" before Chad (Alex Gonzalez) even arrives, but that's overthinking, my friend.

Director Peter J. Hill and all of these very smart, cute actors at Fountain Hills Community Theater have magically made it okay for you to laugh at the show itself -- and at them -- without feeling bad. This is a genuine skill, and we're lucky to be able to watch it in action. They know their stage is tiny and their budget is limited and you can tell all the blue shoes aren't really suede. They know that we'd hate to hang (as my mom says) since some of these people were really young enough for their roles. They're there for a fearless, committed good time, and you'd better just hold on.

This is not to say that there isn't also a bunch of genuine, entertaining acting and singing going on; there definitely is, especially among the ten featured actors. (Although some members of the chorus never quite come into focus as members of the ensemble, that's a nitpick.)

Hill's set design and Mary Ann Hacker's costumes are attractive and functional and support the development of the plot and characters. That may sound like faint praise, but a production that misses any of those marks is the theatrical equivalent of stepping outdoors without sunscreen -- you might not notice right away, but your pleasure will be significantly impaired.

All Shook Up continues through Sunday, June 7, at Fountain Hills Community Theater, 11445 North Saguaro Boulevard. (They keep that town hella dark at night, so please drive carefully and observe the "One Way" signs when you return from the access road.) Tickets are $20 to $25; order here or call 480-837-9661, extension 3.

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