Set in a small town you-never-heard-of in the Midwest and encompassing a 24 hour period during the summer of 1955, the musical follows the adventures of a young female mechanic Natalie (Jenn Gambatese), who falls hard for Chad (Cheyenne Jackson) a sexy hip swiveling young hunk. Wearing a leather jacket and carrying his guitar on his back, the motorcycle riding roustabout, wheels into town in need of repairs for his bike, but falls in love with a gorgeous blonde, Miss Sandra (Leah Hocking) who runs a portable art gallery. Natalie’s widowed father, Jim (Jonathan Hadary) has a secret crush on Miss Sandra as well, but unbeknownst to him Sylvia (Sharon Wilkins), a woman of color and the proprietress of the local bar has been in love with him, since his wife passed away.
The town is run by an up-tight white woman, Mayor Matilda Hyde (Aliz Korey), who fears Chad will turn the place into “Sodom and Gamorrah, but with rhythm.” Matilda’s son Dean falls in love with Sylvia’s daughter Lorraine (Nikki M. James), much to Matilda’s consternation revealing her racial prejudice. Completing the circle of characters consumed with unrequited passion are Dennis (Mark Price) a young student, who pines for Natalie, and the local sheriff (John Jellison), who harbors a secret crush on the Mayor.
Chad enlists the aid of Dennis to help him win over Miss Sandra, while Natalie disguises herself as a man Ed to gain Chad’s attention. Chad ultimately falls in love with Ed, not knowing he is really Natalie, and assumes much to his dismay that he must be gay. The story, which follows the cast of characters in their search for true love, borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream while the musical celebrates the spirit of Elvis reveling in his style. It is never difficult to figure out just who is going to end of with whom, but none of that matters as immensely entertaining songs tumble forth in quick succession.
Cheyenne Jackson as Chad is of course the star and delivers a star turn. Mr. Jackson is a seductive charmer with a wonderfully rich voice, who moves beautifully and is funny as well. He is not only a gorgeous hunk with enormous appeal, but he has a warm magnetic presence that grows on you. He receives a tremendous assist from the entire cast of energetic performers, who sing marvelously and perform their respective songs with committed style and enthusiasm.
Jenn Gambatese, who is clearly a star in the making, is an endearing Natalie. Sharon Wilkins posses a powerful voice with an ability to belt that brought raucous cheers from the audience. Nikki M. James is winning as her outspoken daughter. Alix Korey is a riot as the bigoted mayor, and Curtis Holbrook as her son dances with an explosive sinewy energy that is striking. Mark Price as the nerdy Dennis and John Jellison as the sheriff are impressive as well.
The clever sets by David Rockwell contribute greatly to the evening’s sense of whimsy. They are created from colorful flat cartoon-like images, which give the impression of being three dimensional. Best of all is the abandoned roller coaster and the cool way he has come up with to simulate a motorcycle cruising down the highway. The lighting by Donald Holder is vibrant and adds magic to the roller coaster scene at night. The period costumes by David C. Woolard are snappy and colorfully.
The show is a tunefully pulsating, irresistibly infectious good time that will leave you smiling. We heard the women in back of us saying, “You just don’t want it to end.” Kind of like grooving. Look for it to run for a long long time.
Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street 212-307-4100
Barry Gordin & Patrick Christiano are theatre critics. Barry Gordin is an internationally renowned photographer. They can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers April 29, 2005 republished with permission of the authors