Jenn Gambatese and Cheyenne Jackson in All Shook Up(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Jenn Gambatese and Cheyenne Jackson in All Shook Up
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
People may swoon over Cheyenne Jackson as the "roustabout." They may be charmed by Jenn Gambatese as the girl who wants the bad boy, and they may be delighted to hear so many great Elvis tunes. But the real star of All Shook Up is set designer David Rockwell. He has given this elaborate sitcom such a spectacularly impressive look that audiences will actually think they're seeing a Broadway musical.

Rockwell's vision -- and budget -- encompasses everything from a motorcycle careening down an open road to an abandoned amusement park. In All Shook Up, the sets are changed as often as a baby's diapers. Among its many different locales, there's a shoe store, a gas station, a saloon, and the interior of a church -- a really big church! All the better in which to pray for the future of musical theater.

All Shook Up is a slick, entertaining show brimming with talent, but for all its energy and expertise, there are no original ideas on stage except for the set design. The music isn't new, and the orchestrations only serve to cheapen it. The sound is purposefully (and understandably) loud but also unpleasantly harsh. The plot is a weak stew that mixes William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with John Waters's Hairspray. There are some very funny moments in the show, but one can attribute a lot of the laughs to an exceptional cast that's turning straw into gold eight times a week.

One must give director Christopher Ashley a hand for making All Shook Up so much better than it is has any right to be, and his best work is probably the casting. In addition to the appealing stars mentioned above, Mark Price is sensational as Dennis, the nerd. Leah Hocking, Sharon Wilkins, and Nikki M. James give performances that cause sparks to fly. Jonathan Hadary is delightful, and Alix Korey uses her brass to great effect. The chorus has so many talented people in it that any one of them could probably step up to play a leading role.

We're not the kind of critics who demand that every musical must break new ground; we're not musical theater snobs who feel that it's either Sondheim's way or the highway. That's why we can understand the appeal of All Shook Up. But, hungry as we are for quality, let's remember that this is a catalogue musical and that it's faint praise to rate it as head and shoulders above Good Vibrations and Mamma Mia!. Fools may rush in to praise All Shook Up, but in the end, it's nothing but a hound dog.

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Jackie Mason(Photo © Bill Milne)
Jackie Mason
(Photo © Bill Milne)
Jackie Mason: No Pits

You're not going to believe this, but in his brand new show Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed, Mason is extremely classy. Seriously! At one point in the proceedings, he refers to the debacle that was his unlamented Broadway musical and tells the audience that everyone in that disaster was talented and wonderful; the problem was just that the show itself stunk. He takes full blame while praising everyone else involved, and that impressed us.

Mason was quick to return to Broadway after that failure, clearly wanting to erase its memory. The writer and director of his new show, he simply comes out on stage and talks, and we do our job: We laugh a lot. We laugh as much and as often as we do because Mason isn't recycling old material here; he's telling all new jokes, and a preposterously high percentage of them hit their mark. William Tell never had so many bullseyes. The star goes light on the Jew-versus-Gentile theme but has great fun picking on President Bush. Mason insists that his show is better than any other in town, noting with deadpan conviction that Spamalot is getting his overflow. When an audience member exclaimed that he had heard Mason repeat a joke from an earlier show, the star stopped to explain that he was talking about some of the same subjects he's covered in the past but that there wasn't a single joke in this show that wasn't new -- and then he called the heckler a "Nazi bastard."

The subject matter of Freshly Squeezed ranges from homosexuality to "the orange curtains in Central Park" -- one of the funniest riffs in the show. With his unique delivery and his perfectly logical but exaggerated points of view, Mason is both wise and hilarious.

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David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Christopher Sieber,Steve Rosen, and Tim Curry in Monty Python's Spamalot(Photo © Joan Marcus)
David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Christopher Sieber,
Steve Rosen, and Tim Curry in Monty Python's Spamalot
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Tickets for This Show Are the Holy Grail

Forbidden Broadway has got a problem. How can it spoof Monty Python's Spamalot when everything in this musical is already a spoof -- and with a bigger budget?

Almost all of the comedy in Spamalot can be found in its digressions from a threadbare plot. It's a good thing that most of the show consists of such digressions! Here is this year's musical comedy, with all the bells and whistles. One is tempted to say that it's nothing more than bells and whistles, but it really does offer much more than Mike Nichols' dazzling direction, wonderfully cockeyed set and costume designs by Tim Hatley, and delicious comic performances by an accomplished cast. In short, it's a flat-out fruitcake of a musical. Spoofing musical theater conventions on Broadway has become commonplace, but Spamalot finds several opportunities to up the ante. When Sir Dennis Galahad (Christopher Seiber) and The Lady of the Lake (Sara Ramirez) sing their ersatz love duet, "The Song That Goes Like This," it's composer/lyricist Eric Idle at his demented best. And the two performers are sensational.

The entire cast is a comic wet dream. To name just a few standouts: Tim Curry is majestically moronic as King Arthur; Michael McGrath gets to show off his musical comedy song-and-dance chops as the King's sidekick, Patsy; and Christian Borle, in several roles, comes across as a major Broadway star in the making. (We saw him in William Finn's Elegies, and his performance in Spamalot confirms that he has amazing comic skills to match his dramatic abilities and his beautiful voice.)

To varying degrees, every single scene in Spamalot is funny, and some of them are simply brilliant. Any other show would probably save the "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" number for its finale. The huge production number keeps topping itself in its shameless and hilarious pandering to the Jewish audience, but this show is so often inspired that it can afford to place the number early in the second act. The question isn't whether or not you should see Spamalot, but how many times you should see it.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]