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Linann Easley leads production of musical 'All Shook Up'

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FARMINGTON — In her capacity as the fine arts center director at San Juan College, Linann Easley doesn't typically play a leadership role in the productions her facility presents.

That changed in March when Easley settled into the director's role for the first time in 10 years, leading the school's presentation of the musical "Oliver!" It was an experience she apparently enjoyed. When the artistic director position with Sandstone Productions — the organization that runs Farmington's outdoor summer theater program — opened a short time later, Easley applied for, and received, the job.

So, after a decade of leaving the director's duties to someone else, Easley has taken on those duties for the second time in four months for Sandstone's presentation of the musical "All Shook Up."

It will open this week.

"'Oliver!' was such a great cast, and I had a great team," Easley said, explaining why the challenge of working for Sandstone Productions intrigued her. "Sandstone Productions is near and dear to my heart. It was in a transition phase, so I made sure I stepped up and supported the program."

It was not a decision Easley took lightly. Sandstone mounts only one show a year, always a musical, but the production almost always features a large cast to create as many opportunities for young performers as possible. The shows run for several weeks in an outdoors setting. Rehearsals begin weeks in advance, so the physical and mental demands of overseeing a production of that scale are substantial.

Nevertheless, Easley sounded like she was enjoying the experience of directing "All Shook Up," a relatively new play that made its Broadway premiere in 2005.

"The story is new, but the music is Elvis (Presley)," she said. 'It's loosely based on Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night.' The show is about love — the different types of love in our life and what we're willing to do for it."

The production stars Mellissa Cheffers in the dual Natalie/Ed role and Paul Stewart III as Chad. Both are Sandstone veterans, having performed the lead roles in last summer's production of "Mary Poppins."

Despite the relative youth of the cast, Easley said almost everyone came to the production with a good grasp of the music.

"There were quite a few Elvis aficionados and a lot of familiarity with his music," she said.

Easley had researched the King extensively in the past when she worked on productions of "Jason and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which features an Elvis-like pharaoh character. But she said even she learned a great deal about Presley as she immersed herself in his music for this production.

"I was surprised at his collaborations with other artists," she said. "You think a lot of these songs were written for Elvis, but they were by Chuck Berry or the Beatles."

Although the production itself is rooted in 1950s, Eisenhower-era American values, Easley said she and costume designer Mandolyn Browning are employing settings and styles from a variety of time periods in the show — something that allows them to tie into Elvis' evolving look over the years.

More: San Juan College production of 'Oliver!' opens this weekend

Easley said those who love the King's music are sure to enjoy the production, and they won't be discouraged from singing along to their favorite tunes. As a bonus, she said she has sprinkled several musical "Easter eggs" — inside jokes or references — into the production, as well as Farmington-related Easter eggs.

She described the production as a very dance-heavy show, one that makes good use of the expansive stage the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater offers.

"It's probably the most intensive dance choreography I've ever seen in a show out there," she said.

The physical activity the production requires has helped keep the cast warm during rehearsals after the sun goes down, she said, acknowledging the unseasonably cool and wet weather San Juan County has experienced for much of this spring.

That environment has proven more challenging for the comparatively stationary crew members, she said.

"I had to dig a bunch of sweatshirts out of my car to put in the laundry," Easley said, laughing and recalling the aftermath of a recent rehearsal on a chilly night. "Last night, I was wrapped up in a blanket."

"All Shook Up" opens at 8 p.m. June 20 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington, and continues at the same time every Thursday through Saturday through July 27. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $7 for children. Visit farmingtonnm.org/ost or call 505-599-1144.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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