, Salem, MA

August 9, 2012

Shakespeare meets Elvis

Joyce DeWitt stars in 'All Shook Up' at North Shore Music Theatre

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

---- — Some people’s idea of a night out is to take in a play by Shakespeare. Others veer more toward rock ’n’ roll.

“All Shook Up,” which debuts Tuesday at the North Shore Music Theatre, starring Joyce DeWitt of television’s “Three’s Company,” should make all kinds of audiences happy, as it draws from both types of performance to create a unique evening of musical theater.

The story is based loosely on Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” in which all the main characters are in love — just not with each other.

At the same time, all the music in the show is by Elvis Presley and includes many of his greatest hits, along with a few lesser-known songs by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

“It is set to the music of Elvis, but it’s not about Elvis,” said Mark Ceceri, director of marketing at North Shore Music Theatre. “It’s a ’50s, fun, upbeat musical; it plays true to that style of the ’50s and ’60s.”

The action begins when a daring, handsome stranger named Chad rides into town on a motorcycle, just like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One,” and sets local hearts aflutter.

The plot he puts in motion may remind audiences of another movie, “Footloose,” in which a town preacher has outlawed dancing and rock ’n’ roll, causing teenagers to rebel.

“It’s very ‘Footloose,’ almost the same exact theme,” said Bill Hanney, owner and producer of the North Shore Music Theatre. “No fun, no dancing, no rock ’n’ roll.”

But instead of a male preacher, this backward town is glared over by a mayor, Matilda Hyde, played by DeWitt.

The actress is best-known for playing the plain but thoughtful roommate to Suzanne Somers’ ditzy blond bombshell in the hit ABC sitcom from the ’70s and ’80s.

But here, rather than a mousy, good-hearted soul, DeWitt puts fire and brimstone into Presley’s song “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” in the play’s second act.

“She started in theater before ‘Three’s Company,’” Ceceri said, “and recently did an off-Broadway show called ‘Miss Abigail.’ Last year was her first foray back into higher-visibility theater.”

Chad, her nemesis, is played by Ryan Overberg, who will be a senior at The Boston Conservatory this year and has appeared in other local productions, including a recent “Bye Bye Birdie” at the Reagle Music Theatre.

If the show gets its plot from the romantic mismatches that drive Shakespeare’s play, it also elaborates on some of his subversive themes.

“Twelfth Night” relies heavily on the gender confusion created by women disguised as men, a ruse that is also employed by several women in “All Shook Up.”

The musical is also concerned with social boundaries that are erected around racial identities in the play’s mythical, Midwestern town in the 1950s.

And just as it creatively tweaks its source in Elizabethan theater, “All Shook Up” also offers some unique takes on the songs of Elvis.

“You don’t need to love Elvis to love this show,” Ceceri said. “It’s not like going to an Elvis concert. They’ve rearranged the songs to be more theatrical and move the plot. That was one of the most creative parts of the Broadway show ... the fantastic arrangements.”

Ceceri contrasted this originality with “Mamma Mia,” in which the songs of Swedish pop band Abba were re-created almost exactly as they were first recorded.

“All Shook Up,” which first appeared on Broadway in 2005, was written by Joe DiPietro, whose career in the theater has been diverse as the sources he draws on for material.

“He was the author of the show ‘Memphis’ that premiered at North Shore Music Theatre in 2003,” Ceceri said.

In addition, DiPietro wrote the musical comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which is off-Broadway’s longest-running musical.

“He also wrote the Red Sox version of ‘Damn Yankees’ that we premiered back in 2006,” Ceceri said. “Joe writes a lot of different types of shows.”