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Head Over Heels

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 26, 2018

Head Over Heels Songs by The Go-Go’s. Based on ”The Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney. Conceived and original book by Jeff Whitty. Adapted by James Magruder. Directed by Michael Mayer. Music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Tom Kitt. Choreographed by Spencer Liff. Scenic design by Julian Crouch. Costume design by Arianne Phillips. Lighting by Kevin Adams. Sound by Kai Harada. Hair and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates. Projection design by Andrew Lazarow. Music director Kimberly Grigsby. Music Coordinators Michael Keller and Michael Aarons. Associate director Austin Regan. Associate choreographer Ellenore Scott. Cast: Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Milligan, Peppermint, Tom Alan Robbins, Alexandra Socha, Rachel York, Amber Ardolino, Yurel Echezarreta, Ari Groover, Tanya Haglund, Gregory Liles, Samantha Pollino, Justin Prescott, and Ricardo A. Zayas.
Theatre: Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street between 6th and Broadway
Tickets: Telecharge

Taylor Iman Jones and The Company
Photo by Joan Marcus

For good or for ill, we may just be witnessing the next phase in the evolution of the American musical with the opening tonight at the Hudson Theatre of Head Over Heels, a high-octane and generally silly mishmash of a show that is a hybrid of a sex comedy and a jukebox musical, two forms that occasionally coincide here but mostly occupy parallel worlds. The ultimate two-fer, perhaps?

On the one hand, there is the show's book, credited as being conceived and written by Jeff Whitty and adapted by James Magruder. Whoever contributed what to the final script, the source material is a little something called "The Arcadia," a prose piece from the latter part of the 16th century, written by Sir Philip Sidney who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. The story is a mixture of the kinds of stuff you might expect to see in a Shakespeare comedy or romance, combined with a bit of Greek mythology. From the former, there are disguises, gender confusion, a foolish monarch, a transformative journey into a forest, death and resurrection, and a happy ending, of course. From mythology, we get an oracle whose prophesies are ignored, something that "is not, historically speaking, a wise move," as one of the characters puts it.

On the other hand, there's the score culled from the songbook of The Go-Go's, the all-female rock band that reached its height of fame in the 1980s. Fans of the group's bouncy pop-rock music ought to be happy with the performances of such hits as "We Got the Beat," "Cool Jerk," and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" (which kinda sorta counts, even though it was recorded by the Go-Go's lead singer Belinda Carlisle during her solo career). These are fairly well known, even to the casual Go-Go's listener. Of the others, I was rather taken with "Mad About You," which possibly is the best fit for the musical's most universal of themes: love conquers all.

Andrew Durand and Alexandra Socha
Photo by Joan Marcus

The thing about the score, which is backed appropriately by an all-female band, is that only a few of the songs connect with the plot or move it forward. Instead, the show, directed at a frenetic pace by Michael Mayer (the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening and the flashy 2014 revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), mostly absorbs the playlist for the cast members to belt out at frequent intervals. The reason this random coming together of story and song more-or-less works is due to the fact that the plot is so convoluted, it hardly matters.

If you are averse to the idea of a theatrical evening of The Go-Go's music (a favorite, by the way, of Gwyneth Paltrow, the best known of the show's producers), accompanied by frenzied, limb-thrusting voguing and popping dance moves choreographed by Spencer Liff, this is not the show for you. For everyone else, there is a lot of silly fun to be found, even with a plot that frequently gets tangled in the brambles.

For that functional frivolity, thanks goes to Mr. Mayer's skill at keeping the highly energized cast and the eye-catching design elements flying non-stop. Arianne Phillips is responsible for the just right period costumes, and the terrific cartoons-and-cardboard set design is by Julian Crouch. Phillips, Crouch, and Liff all worked with the director on Hedwig, and their spirit of collaboration helps greatly in holding the disparate elements together.

Among the cast members, the standout is Andrew Durand, a Spring Awakening alum who also appeared in the Broadway production of War Horse. He shines as the nerdy shepherd boy Musidorus, who unleashes his inner Amazon warrior princess as he pursues Philoclea (Alexandra Socha), the younger daughter of King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York). Also outstanding is Bonnie Milligan as Pamela, the self-important, self-proclaimed beautiful older daughter who rejects suitor after suitor until her heart discovers her true love in Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), daughter of Dametas, the King's viceroy (Tom Alan Robbins). Joining in the fun, and making her Broadway debut, is the glitzy and glamorous Peppermint, best known as the transgender favorite (though, alas, the runner-up) of Season 9 of "RuPaul's Drag Race," who does a star turn as Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi. It is Pythio's prophecies that the king is running away from, despite Mopsa's warning: "A man oft meets his destiny on the same road he takes to avoid it."

Sometimes the Elizabethan speech patterns get in the way of clarity, especially in the local dialect employed by the shepherd lad ("Speak English," the others urge him), but as things settle in, the plot becomes self-evident. Bottom line: if you think you've got the beat, and you are ready for some good old "romp and roll," then by all means head on out to Head Over Heels where both are in ample supply.


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