From the moment the Go-Go’s musical Head Over Heels rollicks its way on to Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th century prose poem, The Arcadia at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway, the beat has most defiantly been found. It’s no Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton or The Band’s Visit re-inventing the new musical genre, but it is a festive and fun no-brainer, like a better Jersey Mamma Mia’s Boy rising up from the 80’s. A Go-Go-lishious party that I must admit that I was pretty much ready to be underwhelmed, having heard the quiet vibrations that this irreverent concept didn’t quite delivery. But maybe that was my saving grace, as Head Over Heels delivers quite the colorful treat. So possibly, walking in with low expectations hoping to be mildly entertained helped, enhancing the experience and sending me to Go-Go girl heaven. But regardless of the cause or the ingredient, this melting of 80’s pop and 16th Century prose is a silly fun invention worthy of everyone’s time and energy. Conceived by the witty Avenue Q‘s Jeff Whitty, who wrote the original book before stepping off the Go-Go train, reportedly because of his desire to rewrite some of the classic lyrics, the current production, now on Broadway and adapted by James Magruder (Triumph of Love), sends Head Over Heels into a deliciously created Elizabethan landscape drenched in farce and merriment with a knowing wink and a big old smile.
The choreography, by the fantabulous Spencer Liff (Hedwig) is effervescent in design finding its “Mad About You” way through the pop syncopated rhythms in a clear sexy manner, something that was sorely misplaced and overdone in Atlantic’s This Ain’t No Disco. But here, with director Michael Mayer’s (Kennedy Center’s Chess) keen eye for sharply defined silliness, the music from the classic revolutionary all female pop band lives up to the transformation finding that clearly “Heaven Is a Place on Earth“. I had readied myself, trying to call to the forefront of my memory the hits that the Go-Go’s joyously brought to the 1980’s, but I have to admit that only a few, maybe four or five, resurfaced. That, I will say, might be a blessing in Amazonian disguise, as I was able, unlike my jaunt to Boston to see the Alanis Morrisette jukebox musical, Jagged Little Pill, to just sit back and take it all in, like I am able to with any non-jukebox show. Gone was my mental gymnastics of trying to compare and contrast, while also attempting to construct in advance the scenarios that would fit each song. With Head Over Heels, I could just relinquish those exercises, relax, and let the songs wash over me, as if they were written specifically for this festive fun tale. Head Over Heels has its bow and arrow joyfully and comically aimed at the timely issues of patriarchy, homophobia, sexism, and intolerance, without ever trying to obstinately hit you too seriously over the head with any one topic. The shot hits its target with ease, much like the dreamy character of Musidorus, played with joyous delight by the dashingly and delightful darling, Andrew Durand (Roundabout’s The Robber Bridegroom), who saves the day by killing the beast to become the apple of almost everyone’s eye. Including my own.
With an inventive use of each and every known and slightly B-sided Go-Go’s songs, the pearls are discovered throughout, especially in the the two daughters “Get up and Go” budding romances that flourish invisibly underneath the watchful eyes of all. Pamela, played brilliantly by the rising star, Bonnie Milligan (Vingeyard’s Gigantic) is extremely funny as the vain and selfish elder daughter of the King, especially when emerging glamorously out of a clam shell off shore after an “Automatic Rainy Day“. She absolutely and wholeheartedly believes in her incredible desirability, playing on our silly but steadfast notions of conventional beauty and her plus-size appeal with glee. She is gloriously”Beautiful” in the role, dutifully trying with all her heart to protect her supposedly “plain” younger sister, Philoclea, from the pain of rejection. Pamela though, rejects every sexy suitor she meets in her knock-out solo number, claiming that each one lacks a certain ‘something’. A quality that the very devoted and whip-smart attendant Mopsa, played wisely by the talented Taylor Iman Jones (Broadway’s Groundhog Day), is able to diagnose, completing the well constructed sentences with ease. It’s only a matter of time before she turns to her in “Turn to You“.
Unfortunately the younger sister “Good Girl” role is given a surprisingly under-whelming portrayal by Alexandra Socha (MTC’s Actually). She does manage to elicit charm in the part, but sadly lives up to Pamela’s description of being just ‘plain’ when it comes to her straightforward singing. Is it the songs she is given (or lack there of) or the direction provided that cause this? I’m not sure. Because there are glimpses of grandeur lurking somewhere in “Here You Are“, but it never fully gets its chance to shine brightly. Luckily, she is smitten and teamed up with Durand’s good-hearted shepherd who heightens every scene he is in with a dorkish charm, a strong double bicep pose, and his clear feminine wiles. His love for her transcends all, especially as he discovers the her inside of himself and owns it completely. The play is priceless in its prose, and well executed with innocence and a-dork-ability.
The kingdom, designed playfully by Julian Crouch (Broadway’s Hedwig), with lighting by Kevin Adams (Broadway’s SpongeBob SquarePants) and sound design by the talented Kai Harada (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit) enjoys the storybook quality that excentuates the quest. Brought forth by the privileged and delightfully deceptive King Basilius, played with dependable glee by Jeremy Kushnier (Broadway’s Paramour), he, the “Cool Jerk” of this dynamo, leads the merry band on a trek through the woods in hope of avoiding the prophecy of the Oracle, played deliciously by Peppermint, basking in the joy that comes from RuPaul’s Drag Race. The Oracle knows best, and as Broadway’s first transgender woman to create a principal role, provides solid winks and playful incantations, especially as she is outfitted in a barely formed construct of character and place. Luckily, in the end she is given a tad more to emotionally play with, especially when engaging with the adorable Dametas, played with cute charm by the talented Tom Alan Robbins (Red Bull’s The Government Inspector).
It’s pretty obvious the four hankies will fall eventually, but the farcical complications and cross-dressing hijinks that abound happily turn “Lust to Love“, bringing forth carnel urges from almost everyone, regardless of gender or rank. One of the great joys of Head Over Heels is “This Old Feeling” that greets the King and his adoring but conflicted wife, Gynecia, portrayed with joy by the wonderful Rachel York (Broadway’s Victor/Victoria). The shadow play is frivolous fun bringing the family full circle, but my Lips are Sealed on how and why. The whole thing is a “Vision of Nowness“, traaaaannnns-cending convention as the sensationally funny Peppermint would say, with Head Over Heels taking on big issues without any heavy handed lifting at all. Slightly predicable from the start, the lively cast manages to entertain like we are on all on a big fat fun “Vacation“, while staying clear of missteps and bad humor. Love and desire triumphs over power plays and deceit, giving us all a joyous slice of 80’s girl band heaven that truly is a place on Broadway’s Earth. Ignore the nay-sayers, go-go and enjoy-joy.
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