SUZY CONN REVIEWS: All Shook Up Has Me Shaken and Stirred
Yes folks, I went to see All Shook Up at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago. I was able to get first row balcony one hour before show time, but the place was pretty much sold out. I didn't like Mamma Mia at all, mostly because they had force-fit my favorite ABBA tunes into a stupid story. Now understand, I'm a HUGE ABBA fan. I was big time into ABBA since I had a Swedish friend in high school, and I went through labor with my first daughter with ABBA tunes pumping out on the stereo.
But in Mamma Mia, every time somebody sang an ABBA tune, I longed to hear ABBA's original version. ABBA wrote goofy songs (and I love 'em), but made awesome recordings. So naturally I assumed I would feel the same way about the Elvis songs used in this musical.
How wrong I was.
This is a charming, funny, musical that is quite happy, thank you very much, just to be a musical comedy. The songs are definitely better integrated into the story (bits of songs are used throughout sometimes) than was the case with Mamma Mia. It's a simple story of a "wild one" aka "roustabout" who motorcycles into a small town in the 1950s and suddenly everyone is falling in love left, right, and center.
The music is fifties so it works with the story. The story has a predictable ending, but who cares? The journey is fun! The cast is just dynamite: To hear those great songs sung by amazing voices, with interesting arrangements was a pleasure. The only disapointment for me was the choreography which I expected to be spectacular, given the music, but wasn't.
And yes, 15 minutes into the show I thought: "I wish I could be in this show!". If they had sold a cast CD I would have bought it. They had some expensive-looking set surprises, but the show could have worked without them.
According to my inside sources, the actors were complaining to the union about some of the raked set pieces (they did look a bit dangerous to me) that the women had to navigate in pumps. However, you'd never know it, the actors were giving 150% all through the show.
The show is a crowd pleaser. The audience loved it, but the people next to me were surprised at how much they enjoyed the whole piece, not just the music, surprised at how much they laughed.
Hmmm, mabye I should give Good Vibrations the benefit of the doubt after all.
On the other hand, here's my hypothesis as to why I didn't like Mamma Mia, why I liked All Shook Up, and why I don't think I'll like Good Vibrations...
Both ABBA and The Beach Boys had goofy songs, but a very distinctive recording technique. All The Beach Boy songs (I'm also a big fan) sound a lot alike, but wow, what a great, unique sound they had. So when I hear them sung on stage, I yearn for the original.
Elvis, on the other hand, sang songs written by a variety of songwriters, and although he sang like no one else, the songs can be sung by other artists. It's like the classic songs that Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby or Rosemary Clooney all sang -- they could be covered by many (competent) artists and still be great. So when I heard those Elvis songs sung by great theater voices, I was satisfied.
And of course, they were better integrated into the story...
It's one of those things that makes you go hmmm...