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All Shook Up at Artpark

Chris Critelli and Carey Anderson in All Shook Up (photo by Matt Buckley)

All Shook Up, a musical fable that uses Elvis Presley’s hit songs to tell the inevitable story of a bad boy who shows a dull town how to have fun, is entirely charming on the Artpark stage. The last in a litany of Broadway jukebox musicals, this one is best remembered in New York for making heartthrob Cheyenne Jackson a Broadway star and for not being as awful as Good Vibrations, which flopped in the same season. Even as he slammed its Broadway outing, Ben Brantley of the New York Times imagined that the show might be riotous fun in a different venue “with cardboard scenery.” Well, Artpark has given the world that production, and as Brantley predicted, it’s fabulous fun!

While the promotional materials emphasize that All Shook Up is a musical updating of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I can honestly say (and Twelfth Night is not exactly unfamiliar to me) that the Shakespeare plot is barely detectible in Joe DiPietro’s script. This show owes more to Footloose, The Wild One, and Rebel Without a Cause—but is funnier.

Opening Shots

All Shook Up at Artpark

Director Randall Kramer with All Shook Up star Carey Anderson, choreographer Lynne Kurdziel-Formato, and Chris Critelli, who stars as Chad, celebrate a dynamite opening.

Courtney Markowitz, who plays sexy Miss Sandra, with Grant Gustin, who plays Dean, and talented Jared Loftin, who plays Dennis.

Actress/Shakespeare in Delaware Park managing director Lisa Ludwig with All Shook Up star Chris Critelli.

Artpark has assembled a dream team to stage the show. Randall Kramer of MusicalFare directs. Lynne Kurdziel-Formato—formerly of the UB Musical Theatre program, now of the Elon University Musical Theatre program—choreographs. Lynne Koscielniak, of UB, has provided the delightful cardboard scenery. This partnership has allowed Artpark to tap into some of the most sublime untapped young talent available. Add to the mix the indomitable and arguably deranged comic genius of Sally Struthers, and wow do we have a show!

When Kurdziel-Formato unwillingly defected to Elon Unversity in North Carolina, the Western New York theater community mourned. It’s still in mourning. Interestingly, having the gifted teacher/choreographer placed in Elon’s high profile musical theater program has begun to benefit us, indirectly. All Shook Up is largely populated by Elon talent: Grant Justin, who plays the mayor’s uptight son; Jared Loftin, who is sensational as the leading lady’s lovelorn best friend; Courtney Markowitz as the statuesque Miss Sandra; and a number of chorus members all hail from that program. And they are terrific. So, too, is Kurdziel-Formato’s choreography, which makes us of the talent at hand to the max, including tumbling.

Meld these talents with our homegrown Chris Critelli as Chad, Keith Ersing as the father of the girl, Robert Insana as Sheriff Earl, dancer Christian Donnelly, and we’ve got a happy alchemy going.

Chris Critelli is perfection as hip-swiveling, overly confident Chad. He moves well, sings well, and lands all of the comedy delightfully.

As his should-be love interest, Natalie, Carey Anderson—a Broadway Mamma Mia veteran (she played Sophie opposite Buffalo’s Corinne Melançon innumerable times) is exuberantly charming and sings gloriously.

Betti O, as Sylvia, the owner of the local watering hole, where she caters not to drunks but to “alcohol enthusiasts,” tears up the stage with giant-sized period numbers.

Keith Ersing and Robert Insana give marvelous tongue-in-cheek performances in roles that are far from thankless in this playful production.

Kevin Wallace, originally of Arcade, returns to music direct—and the show (despite a few microphone problems on the opening night) sounds swell!

Sally Struthers will disappoint no one. She is wildly funny and courageous in no-holds-barred forays into broad physical comedy worthy of Lucille Ball or of the Marx Brothers. She plays repressive and bitter Mayor Matilda Hyde—a woman with issues. Her rendition of “Devil in Disguise” opposite Critelli is a highlight. When she hurled herself out of her car, or when she flung Robert Insana over her shoulder—yes, really—I thought I would die laughing. If you weren’t one before, you will likely walk out of All Shook Up as a Sally Struthers fan.

All Shook Up is a happy confection for a summer evening at Artpark. The show plays through the weekend.