Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Production Run: Tue 14 - Sat 18 March 2017

Performance Reviewed: Thur 16 March 2017

When reviewing local productions, there’s often a well meaning inclination to over-egg the proverbial pudding when it comes to praise. There’s a bonhomie and warmth of spirit to ‘amateur’ productions (despite my loathing of that particular word) that is easy to get swept up in and become forgiving with. These people aren’t getting paid. They don’t have the budget of major productions. It’s all been done on top of everyone’s 9 to 5. That joke is particularly funny because we know the person delivering it. Oh look, Grandma is in the audience cheering on her family proudly.

Yes, there’s no malice or condescension in admitting that reviewing local productions is often a warm-hearted yet slightly forgiving affair.

Then you get MUSCOM and All Shook Up.

A production that truly throws that angle of sentiment or cloying empathy - not to mention any semblance of the word ‘amateur’ - right out the window.

All Shook Up is completely deserving of praise entirely on it’s own merit. It’s a slick, polished, visually ambitious and immensely satisfying production that leaves even some professional touring productions trailing in the wake of its quality. Much like the authentic heritage Harley Davidson wheeled out throughout the show, this is no knock-off facsimile or cheap imitation - it’s bonafide, top-class musical theatre done very right. 

Granted, the core story at the heart of All Shook Up is nothing revolutionary - based (very loosely) on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the tale of freewheeling roustabout Chad (Liam Sargeant) rocking up a town that had otherwise banned excitement and fun seems to owe just as much to the likes of Footloose as it does the Bard or the King. And yet, despite being quaintly old-fashioned for a show that only debuted back in 2004, this is by no means a bad thing. It’s peppered with fun, likeable characters, tells it's story of romance and hijinks with levity and charm to spare, and is aided by a whole jukebox worth of classic Elvis hits. 

‘It’s Now or Never’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Jail House Rock’, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. A musical lineup to be envious of, and they are big, demanding numbers that the cast of All Shook Up pull off tremendously, assisted by the vibrant, kinetic choreography and razor-sharp direction of Denise Robinson. 

It all completely seamlessly harmonises with James Maddison’s fantastic musical direction, too, along with his stellar work with the Midland Concert Orchestra, who do great things with Presley’s diverse catalogue of hits.

It’s not just the fantastic cast and direction, though; this is by some measure the most visually and technically audacious amateur production I have seen. The lighting, sound and staging work done by Midlands-based MPS is particularly fantastic, genuinely better than a lot of professional productions seen on the very same boards. Tom Johnson deserves particular credit for his transformative and dazzling lighting that would not look out of place on the West End.

But front and centre are MUSCOM’s players, and they are a veritable smorgasbord of talent. Liam Sergeant carries the production on his shoulders with complete confidence from the outset - capturing the necessary swagger, cockiness and debonair charm perfectly whilst matching his rich character work with sumptuous, soaring vocals. Seeing the girls on stage going weak at the knees for his Chad requires no suspension of disbelief. 

Equally wonderful is co-lead Katie Astbury, who lends the show much of its heart as frustrated mechanic Natalie, desperately hoping to win the affection of the town’s newest heartthrob. Astbury once again posits herself as a theatrical talent of real reckoning; her grasp of character is faultless, her delivery always meticulously on-point, and her vocal range frequently show-stopping. 

Like so much of the production, everything about All Shook Up’s leads screams professional.

Brace yourself for some equally impressive supporting turns though, too. Colette Forsyth is endlessly watchable and entertaining throughout as the spirited, feisty Sylvia, ‘honky-tonk’ owner and town matriarch of sorts. Forsyth is a gifted comedienne, but she's an equally capable singer, too. In fact, nowhere is her performance more powerful than when she lets rip with a searing, powerhouse rendition of ‘There’s Always Me’ that was deservedly met with rapturous applause. 

Elsewhere, Zac Hollinshead proves himself a firm audience favourite as comedic ‘sidekick’ Dennis, mining a lot of laughs out of his hapless character, whilst Kimmy Corvellis is suitably sultry and commanding of attention as the glamorous Miss Sandra, object of Chad’s misguided attentions. Johann Davis is deliciously spiteful and funny as villain of the piece Mayor Matilda, whilst Mike Astley and Jess Olford are suitably endearing, and each showcase solid vocals, as the lovelorn young couple taking inspiration from Chad’s rebellious attitude.

In fairness though, talent is everywhere you look in All Shook Up. It’s a show where every component works impressively, not to mention effortlessly. Together, they add up to a rock ’n roll treat of a show that fires on all cylinders throughout and is a fantastic demonstration of the attainment and potential of local or amateur productions.

Then again, I’ll end by reiterating how I began; toss the ‘amateur’ label out the window. 

For All Shook Up isn’t a good theatrical production by ‘amateur’ standards.

It’s a fantastic theatrical achievement by any standard.

Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click