Pictured are the cast of Birr Stage Guild during their performance of All Shook Up in the Marian Hall Birr recently
There was a whole lotta shaking going on after Birr Stage Guild rocked the stage with a lively, hip swivelling, lip curling, tuneful, burning love production of “All Shook Up”.
A great night’s entertainment, it was one not to be missed. Scripted by Joe DiPietro, those familiar with the show will know the story is an original romantic comedy, based around a collection of classic Elvis Presley songs with hints of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” peppered throughout.
With a whopping 24 musical numbers, some of Presley’s greatest melodies feature in this American jukebox musical. “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Don’t be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender” appeal to the heart while the “C’mon Everyone”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Burning Love” ensure the audience are almost dancing in the aisles.
The two act story is set in 1955, somewhere in an ultra conservative middle American town where tight trousers and loud music are banned, where one girl’s dream and a surprise visit from a leather jacketed, guitar playing stranger help a small town to discover the magic of romance and the power of rock & roll.
Enter roustabout “Chad” (David Sheils), the unconventional lover of motorbikes, music and women. Recently released from prison, “Chad” a cross between Elvis himself and Marlon Brando sets about causing disruption to the townspeople as he begins to convert the locals to the “dark side”, dancing and more open sexuality that vexes the local Mayor (Heather Colohan), a kill joy puritan.
While, “Natalie” (Sarahgene Loughnane), a young mechanic is dreaming of love and adventure, yearning for one true love to take her away. However, she doesn’t realise her best friend nerdy “Dennis” (Patrick Kelly) has a crush on her and the drama kicks off when “Chad” rides into town in need of a mechanic and is introduced to “Natalie”, who’s instantly smitten and promises to fix his bike. However, he lusts after Miss Sandra (Brid Delaney).
With a quick set change, the townsfolk are gathered at Sylvia's (Barbara Hanamy) honkytonk to lament their longing for love. Sylvia's daughter Lorraine (Robyn Luttrell) and Natalie’s widowed father Jim (Patrick Byrne) join their neighbours in “Heartbreak Hotel” until the rumble of Chad’s motorcycle interrupts the gang. When he announces his bike in need of repair, he’s of course introduced to Natalie, who develops a crush on him. Could this be the man of her dreams? But when Chad tries to stir up some fun shenanigans in town he told about the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act, which doesn’t allow for necking in public, tight pants or loud music, and is strictly managed by Mayor Matilda and enforced by her ever silent sidekick Earl, the sheriff (Kevin Murphy).
Natalie has her eyes set on Chad but he has his eyes set on the museum curator Sandra (Brid Delaney). Try and keep up this is the fourth crush! Sandra is sophisticated and dresses the part. Natalie feels in order to compete for Chad’s affections she needs to get out of her greasy mechanic’s jumpsuit and borrows a dress from her friend Lorraine. Soon, Natalie finds out her father also has a crush for Sandra although he has some untold feelings for Sylvia. Yes, that is another possible crush!
Dean, the son of Mayor Matilda, soon explains his love for Lorraine and that he thinks she’s beautiful. But Mayor Matilda isn’t having it and is sending him back to military school. In the meantime, Natalie decides the dress isn’t working for her and thinks Chad is a man’s man and likes hanging with the boys so she dresses like a guy, makes friends with Chad under the of “Ed” and becomes one of the boys. The problem with that is Sandra now has a crush on him. Natalie can’t hold back any more and kisses Chad while still pretending to be Chad. Now Chad has to accept the fact he has a crush on Ed as he liked the kiss. On the drama!
And, so the story went from here with its tribute to the “King” that treated the audience to some terrific, hair raising music with floor hopping score, a show stopping production by the Stage Guild, strong leading characters with a full orchestra. While all the madcap scenarios are in play, the audienced is treated to songs like “Hound Dog”, “Love Me Tender”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, “All Shook Up” and the grand final with the entire cast singing “Burning Love”. Forbidden relationships, mistaken identity and racial and gender issues further complicate the hilarious story.
In her dual role as “Natalie/Ed”, Sarahgene was bright and charming, whose strong vocals perkily power through songs like “Love Me Tender” and “Fools Fall in Love”. In the role, the dynamic star sang her heart out as the grease monkey heroine who disguises herself as a guy to be closer to charismatic Chad (David Sheils), the leather-clad stranger who cycles through town. With his dulcet swooning tones and hip swivelling moves, David inspired everyone even the audience through his superb Elvis style persona to find their bliss. He also certainly got a workout in this production.
Other standout performances were Barbara Hanamy as local softly spoken hangout owner, Sylvia, who lets go a few times and surprised the audience with great comic delivery and some powerful and spirited vocals. And then there’s her daughter Lorraine (Robyn Luttrell), whose voice started in the heart and soared to the rafters while giving her character a sweet but sassy persona.
Excitement was also found in the supporting roles of Dennis (Patrick Kelly) with his own heavenly pipes and his spirited delivered of many comical lines as the nerd, who worships Natalie. Gerry Clarke as Dean, the military school bound mayor’s son, who scandalises the town with his declaration of puppy love for spunky Lorraine, certainly brought his character to live with a towering performance.
As the love interest of Chad and the blond bombshell Sandra, Brid Delaney was sultry and provocative throughout the production and delivered some emotive and powerful performances as the head of the local museum. Patrick Byrne’s voice was thrilling and a joy to listen to while bringing Jim’s sweet and gentle nature to the fore. Heather Colohan (Mayor Matilda) was perfectly cast and she shone in the role she plays. Her comedic timing was always on point while Kevin Murphy (Earl), who finally does get to speak at the end, added a humorous side to Sheriff Earl.
The entire cast dove into their characters giving each one the individuality they needed , which made their presence as an ensemble work so well together. This fun and energetic production came together fantastically, helped by the winningly infectious spirit of an exuberant group of dancers and chorus.
Director, Paul Norton kept his cast intact and moving at a good speed as needed for this type of production and was ably helped by musical director, Enda O’Connor, who once again hit a high note with his fantastic orchestra. As choreographer, Aideen Leacy, whose first year it is with Birr Stage Guild, made Elvis’ songs come to life in an energetic theatrical way.
Kudos also goes to the set creators and designers on a superb job with brilliant background screens that served as scenario holders particularly the dazzling abandoned amusement park in the closing scenes. The costumes also added wit and style while lighting and sound kept things aglow on the night.
The production was a mixture of comedy, romance and music and drew many squeals of laughter and delight as the cast moved through this hot production. Birr Stage Guild have amassed a fine body of work doing an assortment of show stopping productions over the years and this was no different.
It was another impressive performance where the audience were dancing in their seats after only a few bars of the opening number, “Jail House Rock”. Every pelvis thrust seemed to push the audience further and further into 1950s mid west America. Not only was it great fun, but when you could see how much the people around you were thoroughly engrossed in the production, you knew the ensemble had won the audience! And even though the great “King” of Music is well and truly gone, his chart topping music continues to be alive and well in fantastic productions like that staged by Birr Stage Guild.