Rockville Musical Theatre’s production of “All Shook Up,” which opened last weekend and runs to Nov. 17, is built around the knee-jerking, hip-gyrating sounds of Elvis Presley.
According to director Duane Monahan, that’s the way it should be.
“You don’t want to mess too much with the Elvis songs since everyone loves them so much,” says Monahan. “You can’t mess these lyrics up because everyone knows them.”
Monahan, who lives in Washington, D.C., and works full time for the Department of Defense, has been involved with Rockville Theatre Company for the last 25 years and says he considers it his “home base.” Monahan submitted to direct this show after hearing part of the “All Shook Up” score on a Sirius XM Broadway station.
“There are certain shows where, when I hear them, I can just see them in my head,” says Monahan. “I knew it was something I would like to tackle at some point.”
The musical, which originally opened in 2004, is set in 1955 in middle America. Borrowing some elements from Shakespearean comedies — cases of mistaken identity, cross-dressing — “All Shook Up” follows bad boy Chad as he rolls into town on his motorcycle with lessons in love and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll.
Featuring more than 25 songs, “All Shook Up” depends heavily on its ensemble.
“This is really an ensemble piece,” says Mark Hamberger, who plays softspoken Dennis.
“We wanted to give as many people an opportunity to be in as many numbers as possible,” adds Monahan. “We divided people into a singing ensemble and a dancing ensemble.” Monahan gets some help from musical director Marci Shegogue and choreographer Jeremy McShan.
Although the ensemble certainly is imperative in carrying songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock,” “All Shook Up” also depends on the talent of the show’s youngest cast member and one of its stars, 16-year-old Ivanna Barrientos.
This is the first Rockville Musical Theatre production for Barrientos, a student at Walter Johnson High School. The teenager says she was not even planning on trying out for the show but her boyfriend was auditioning and convinced her to come along. Her boyfriend didn’t make it into the show, but Barrientos landed the role of Natalie — the lead.
Despite the difference in age between Barrientos and her cast mates — the cast ranges from teens to adults in their 50s — she says the age gap has not affected the quality of the show.
“At first I was nervous but we have great chemistry together,” says Barrientos. “The age, it didn’t make a difference.”
“There’s some of that, ‘You’re half my age,’ ‘I could be your father’ kind of stuff,” adds Hamberger. “[But] everyone comes to the table wanting to do this project ... you really don’t notice [age] in the process.”
No matter their age, the “All Shook Up” actors couldn’t help but become Elvis Presley fans.
“Some of [the younger people] have heard some of the songs before, some didn’t know the references from some of the old Elvis movies,” says Monahan. “They weren’t up on that.”
But it only took a few weeks for Barrientos and other members of the cast to get to know the King’s music.
“I had never heard of ‘All Shook Up’ until I auditioned,” says Barrientos.“I knew some of the music but I wasn’t necessarily a huge Elvis fan ... Once I got into the show I got much more familiar with the music and became a bigger fan.”
“I never thought I was an Elvis fan but his music is completely infectious,” Hamberger adds. “I have not been able to get it out of my head for the last two months.”