Giving fearless performances

Standing in the shadow of the king of rock and roll can be intimidating.

But the Iowa Central Community College Performing Arts students are bold and unrelenting as they stage the musical “All Shook Up,” a production inspired by the legendary music of Elvis Presley, from March 5-8.

“They have no fear,” said director Teresa Jackson. “They are not at all hesitant in doing an iconic song. They are coming at it fresh rather than trying to imitate Elvis or attempting to recreate his performance.”

The show’s storyline is a contemporary version of the William Shakespeare comedy “Twelfth Night,” in which laughs occur as a result of mistaken assumptions and differing identities. Essentially, the lead character of Chad, a guitar-playing and hip-swinging wanderer shakes up a small town in the Midwest where local legislation outlaws “loud music, public necking and tight pants.” His arrival sends ripples through the citizens who in turn find themselves tangled and floundering in the crisscrossing lines of local love triangles

However, shaping the production more than the mixed-up tale is the musical score which contains songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

“What is fantastic is that the students really do love them all,” Jackson said. “If you ask them, it is so difficult for them to pick a favorite.”

While Jackson said she grew up watching the later Elvis movies, such as “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Hawaii,” many of the students have only heard later renditions of the songs or vague references to Elvis’ performances. While they missed out on a true performer and original rock and roll superstar, this sheltered experience may actually be a blessing for them.

“They are kind of discovering Elvis in a whole new way,” she said. “It’s exciting and new for them and that comes across in their fearless energy.”

The musical score includes familiar titles that include “Heartbreak Hotel,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Hound Dog,” “Jail House Rock,” “Love Me Tender” and “Don’t be Cruel.”

While they may not be intimidated by the famous musical score, Jackson said they have been tested by the sheer amount of choreography.

“This show has so much dance. The energy is insane,” she said. “We really rock it. The challenge for them then is that every lyric drives the story and every phrase has a specific action. They will never just stand and sing. This is not a concert.”

That high-octane level of performance can be difficult to maintain throughout the show, Jackson said. It can also be difficult to learn if dance isn’t already the cast member’s forte. For instance, Jackson said, one of the students, one of the leads actually, loves to sing and play musical instruments, but he doesn’t like to dance.

So, she choreographed his scenes with this in mind and purposely planned for the cast members around him to move more to keep the flow up tempo. This provides him a chance to shine instead of forcing him into a situation he hasn’t mastered as yet.

“We have to be really creative as to how we play to our strengths,” Jackson said.

Each of the students has their specialty and diminishing it by relying too heavily on a weaker skill doesn’t benefit them nor does it benefit the performance, she explained.

Keeping everyone moving and happy is essential to portraying “All Shook Up” in line with its true American jukebox musical character meant to shake-up audiences with its rock and roll, good-time nature.