Brycen Witt and ensemble members in All Shook Up

Do you need something lively to shake you out of the winter doldrums? Did you not get enough adoration on the 14th? If music be the food of love (and it be), hie thee to the Spotlight Theatre, where I saw All Shook Up on Saturday. Pulsing with songs made famous by Elvis Presley, with its book by Joe DiPietro, the show debuted on Broadway in 2005. Presley, the King of Rock and Roll and the embodiment of teen adulation in the mid-20th century (nodding to the exiting Sinatra, and winking at McCartney, waiting in the wings), also made 31 films. This musical mixes Elvis' two endeavors as part parody, part tribute, and director Max Moline, music director Trent Teske, choreographer Robyn Messerly, and all involved made it a 24-karat gold-record blast – the most, daddy-o!

Into an oppressive small town of hopeless folk rides Chad (Brycen Witt) on his motorbike – a scoundrel with a rotational pelvis, and a self-proclaimed “roustabout.” (It's like a drifter, only more rogue-ish, as well as the title of a 1964 Elvis movie and song). Though, to me, the name “Chad” conjurs a douchey '80s frat boy, that's also Elvis' character name in 1961's Blue Hawaii. (If you've seen his flicks, which I have not, you'll likely notice additional references that I missed.) In addition to his Elvis-like ability to make teens faint – which, yes, the King did in real life – All Shook Up's Chad packs the Fonzie-like power to start a jukebox with a thump. And beyond the amusing inclusion of that literal item in his jukebox-musical script, DiPietro admirably integrates 25 songs, most of them about love and love-adjacent lust, into his plot in the most organic way I've seen. (I still haven't healed from the injuries the cringe-worthy script of Shout! The Mod Musical inflicted.)

In real life, as Elvis melted fans into shrieking puddles, mainstream America considered him a corrupting influence. In this show, naturally, Chad evokes the same responses. Witt has amazing talent – he acts, sings, and dances with enviable skill. Since I first saw him years ago on the Augustana College stage, he apparently hasn't aged; instead, he youthened, like Merlin in Camelot. For me, it was odd to see such a clean-cut lad (by 21st-century standards) seducing and outraging the town, but that's part of the humor. Most of the time, Witt broadcasts smug conceit, and with great comedic takes. When surprised by adversity, Chad's face falls, and with his helpless bewilderment so real, it's a bit distressing.

Becca Johnson, Brian Heffernan, and ensemble members in All Shook Up

The frighteningly multi-talented Becca Johnson plays Natalie, an early victim of Chad's facile charm who is outwardly a wallflower, but inwardly a wild flower who wants to roam. Natalie's desperation prods her to amusing extremes, and Johnson deftly plays the role (mostly) straight. Brian Heffernan endearingly portrays Dennis, a young man too scared to tell his best friend Natalie that he love-loves her. Heffernan's strong voice, stage presence, and physical control are a joy.

Natalie's daddy Jim, a role assumed by Matt Downey, is another sweet forlorn soul, who in one priceless scene learns to be cool under Chad's tutelage. World-weary diner owner Sylvia is played wonderfully by Sara Wegener, an adept comic actor who broke my heart performing "There's Always Me." The ever-marvelous Abby Bastian portrays the alluring Miss Sandra, who sang another of my favorite numbers, "Let Yourself Go," alongside Natalie and an unexpected Greek chorus.

Krianna Walljasper, of the Walljasper acting dynasty, is Sylvia's daughter Lorraine, another aspiring adventurer, and this actor proves she's got It – whether through nature or nurture. Pam Cantrell visits us from Muscatine stages to enact the stern and judgy Mayor you love to hate. The delightful Jorge Mendez plays her son Dean, and area-theatre mainstay Nancy Teerlinck immerses herself in her Sheriff role as in no other part I've seen her in. Every member of Moline's All Shook Up ensemble is likewise spectacular: Aaron Baker, Amber Whitaker, Amelia Fischer, Isaiah Jensen, Joel Vanderbush, Kirsten Sindelar, Mallory Carslake, Noah Hill, Sydney Rosebrough, and Topher Elliott. They've taken on named roles in other shows and sing and dance like nobody's business, and on Saturday, their nimble, natural changes of expression and reactions were marvelous.

the All Shook Up ensemble

My favorite number is the company's "Can't Help Falling in Love," where we're treated to each principal character's distinctive, powerful voice in solo, then the whole ensemble as a chorus. Enthralling. Teske's orchestra was terrific, as well – the musicians, like the actors, are always consummate pros at this theatre. Unfortunately, on Saturday, fickle sound equipment hindered parts of the show, as it has so many otherwise stellar productions. Mics occasionally cut out, and during some numbers, that electrical beast strangled the richness of those gorgeous voices. Even during scenes of dialogue, I could hear the speakers' faint buzzing and spitting – the sinister hiss of a snake lying in wait.

But kudos to playwright DiPietro for an unexpected yet satisfying ending. Supposedly, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night inspired this script, but I've been in that play, and it seemed to be that DiPietro basically borrowed one plot arc. A good one, though. (Humorous footnote: In it, I played a male role changed to female named … Fabian! Get it? 1950s heartthrob? Like Elvis? No?) The Spotlight's got some figurative food for love with All Shook Up – and literal food at intermission, if you choose. Play on!


All Shook Up runs at the Spotlight Theatre (1800 Seventh Avenue, Moline IL) through February 26, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)912-7647 and visiting

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