My parents grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. They both had pretty wide-ranging tastes in music. (Anybody remember Buffy Sainte-Marie?)
The music and the accompanying pop-culture phenomena of Elvis Presley was something that my parents grew up with. They liked Elvis, but by the time I came along (in 1971, if you are counting) Elvis was in the throes of his last great come-back, before his life was cut short by the excesses of his lifestyle in 1977. I watched the specials, heard the music on the radio, but my parents’ record collection didn’t include much, if any, Elvis music.
Sometime in 1975, I had received a variable speed record player. I loved this record player and I remember it distinctly and I loved playing the handful of records filled with storys and children’s songs on it. When my brother, Adam, was born, in the summer of 1976, my parents bestowed a “gift” from my newborn baby brother. It was a 45rpm single of All Shook Up (with That’s When Your Heartache Begins on the b-side) by Elvis. I remember listening to it constantly and getting a great deal of joy out of playing the single at slower and faster speeds on the record player. I would sometimes sing along to the record at one of the slower or faster speeds, which delighted my mother to no end. Another great vivid memory is me doing this while my mother was on the phone, and she was laughing so hard, that she finally had to put the phone down until she could get her composure. I was maybe 4. At one point, shortly after that, I remember watching a re-run of the Elvis Comeback Special- the one where Elvis is in the black leather.
Almost a year after getting this record, Elvis died. It was a sad day in my house. My mother cried. I remember asking a lot of questions, and likely being spared the truth of Elvis’ tragic last few years of drugs and dissipation. As I grew older, and even as a teenager, I found Elvis, his music, and his rise and fall fascinating. I eventually moved on to cassettes and the popular music that my peers listened to.
Flash forward to about 2008 or so, when a package from New York arrived in the theatre office. In it was a script and a CD from a new musical that had just ended its run on Broadway. The title was All Shook Up, intrigued I read the libretto, and listened to the music. It was a runner-up, but never a final contender, for inclusion in previous Parkway Playhouse seasons. I was never really sure if anyone in our audience really cared about Elvis’ music, or if we had people who would be up for the intensive amount of music and dance crammed into this very silly but appealing show. Since our 2015 season ultimately ended up being a season full of bold and risky choices that would challenge artists and audiences alike, I added it and talked Amanda Pisano into doing the choreography. I had no idea if people would like it, hate it, ignore it, or even care. The resulting affection from the actors and our audience has been a huge and welcome surprise.
Our cast includes teenagers who are discovering this music for the first time. In one rehearsal, I played a recording of Elvis singing Burning Love to the cast -right after they had just rehearsed that same song- the impact of hearing how emotionally invested and powerful Elvis’ performance was had an impact. The next time the cast sang any of this music they were fearlessly ripping into it with gusto. One of our cast, Rose Ray, remembers the 50’s vividly. In fact, her costume consists of actual clothing she wore in that period. Seeing our cast and staff, who collectively span generations, gleefully finding common ground in this music was deeply rewarding for me. Likewise seeing my own children, aged 11, 9, and 3 clapping and dancing along to music that connects them to my parents and grandparents generation is inspiring.
During the final week of rehearsal my three-year-old son, Dryden, who had to come to rehearsal (his mother/my wife is Mary Katherine Smith-Gall who plays Miss Sandra in All Shook Up) with me. We were working on dances that day. On a break he ran up on stage and began to imitate Robby Taylor’s(who plays Chad, the Elvis stand-in All Shook Up) signature hip swivel. All of us started cheering, laughing- including Dryden, who was delighted at the attention. In that one moment, I thought of my mother laughing, the summer my brother was born, and I knew that I was working on the right show at the right time with the right people for the right audience.
Elvis lives. ~Andrew Gall – Director of All Shook Up and Artistic Director of Parkway Playhouse