Friday, April 20, 2018

"Head Over Heels"

Head Over Heels
The Go-Gos (Songs); Jeff Whitty (Book); James Magruder (Adapter of Book)
Inspired by The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney

The Cast of Head Over Heels"
What happens when a Renaissance tale of royal romance written in iambic pentameter collides head-on with the jukebox music of the 1980s all-female group, the Go-Go’s?  And what if twists and turns of the story inspired by Sir Philip Sidney’s The Arcadia (1580s) now include same-sex love, gender-bending left and right, and a transgender Oracle of Delphi?  Putting all that together along with rainbow-colored mermaids, dancing (and definitely hunky) serpents and sheep, and erotic shadow-box sex scenes means that New York had better batten down the hatches for the musical that arrives at the Hudson Theatre June 23 and is now in its final pre-Broadway run at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre!  After receiving its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015 with a book by Jeff Whitty and original songs of the Go-Go’s, Head Over Heels has been further adapted by James Magruder and lands as an adult fairy tale on the Curran stage in a fabulously entertaining, eye-popping, foot-stomping musical extravaganza that has 2019 Tony nomination written all over it.

The Cast of Head Over Heels
As the subjects of Arcadia romp about on stage pumping arms and bodies in multi directions and postures while singing, “Everybody get on your feet, we got the beat, we know you can dance to the beat,” we in the audience already find it hard to sit still as the contagious music of the Go-Go’s has young and old alike rocking in their seats.  The kingdom prides itself in its ability to move in unison as if in a hyped-up aerobics class (part of the energetic, robotic, body-stretching choreography that Spencer Liff has created for the entire evening).  However, there is a command that the arrogant, controlling King Basilius has received from Zeus via the mammoth mouth of a snake dropping from the sky to go see the new Oracle of Delphi. 

This larger than life Oracle (Is that a drag queen or drag king or ??) declares that unless four things happen (none of which he wants), Arcadia will lose its beat; and he, his kingdom.  After all, what king wants to give up his crown for a better king, get caught in an affair (but without being unfaithful?), or marry off his older daughter (but to no groom)?  His answer is not to tell anyone other than his faithful viceroy, Dametas, but instead to take all the court on a journey to slay what he now claims the Oracle has demanded:  a golden stag.  Singing “Get Up and Go” and shuffling suitcases between themselves in a relay dance of sorts, the entire court heads off to Bohemia.

Prior to all this drama, the king’s over-sized daughter, Pamela, continues a four-year trend to reject suitors paraded before her by her parents.  Pamela, whose tall and wide proportions are deemed the peak of beauty by all (and especially her), turns her nose up at four, bare-chested Adonises with ripped abs.  Bonnie Milligan belts a voice as big, bountiful, and bold as her Pamela’s overall build as she sings, “Beautiful,” accompanied by a chorus of picture-frame-carrying girls for constant mirror-viewing of herself.  As she journeys to Bohemia with her family, she will begin discovering through a poem that she writes that rather than a manly body, what she actually craves has bodily curves and rhymes with “wits” and “china” (among other words not suitable for this review!).  Pamela will become absolutely hysterical in her yearning as her desires turn into a tantrum state, with Ms. Mulligan’s fiercely fabulous voice scoring big-time in “How Much More” (... “can I take before I go crazy ... how much more heartache?”).

The focus of her secret attention becomes Mopsa, the daughter of the king’s Viceroy, who takes a side trip to the Greek Island Lesbos as Taylor Iman Jones sings a rousing “Vacation” while singing mermaids swim among huge waves -- all part of the fun scenic design of Julian Crouch that often reminds one of a kid’s pop-up story book.  When the two finally discover their forbidden attraction, both bring their diva voices to bear in singing a hyped-up, electric-charged “Turn to You” – all the time other same-sex couples groove and grind around them.

Peppermint and Ensemble Members
But more illicit love is also in the air.  A shepherd boy who tends to talk in tongues, Musidorus, loves the younger royal daughter, Philoclea, who will declare in clear speech his love for her with his (Andrew Durand’s) over-the-top (and maybe the evening’s best) voice in “Mad about You” (with dancing, kinky sheep as his back-up).  It will take a gender-changing intervention by Pythio -- the Oracle of Delphi played with gusto and grind and marvelously bellowing vocal chords by Peppermint – for him to join the royal train to Bohemia transformed into an Amazon warrior.  That intervention will lead to several other misplaced infatuations and mix-ups, including a humping, bumping nighttime and nude tryst by King Bailius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York) as they sing in fine voice “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

The one that Musidorus – shepherd now turned Amazon -- really wants  is Philoclea, the pretty, petite sister Pamela cannot help but ridicule as too plain. As Philoclea, Alexandra Socha brings a soft, melodic innocence to her vocals and an ability gradually to intensify in feeling and volume to deliver in the end a powerful punch (as heard in “Good Girl”).  When she believes love has passed her by and sings quietly in grief that “nothing is gonna change” (“Here You Are”), she blends her voice in intertwined harmonies with her mother to sing, “The love you seek, the love you own, is it so fleeting?”

Michael Mayer directs eight leads and eight ensemble members with an penchant to be just enough naughty to tantalize and tease and with tongue enough in cheek to bring out all the chuckles the Shakespearean-sounding dialogue and lyrics can elicit.  Though set sometime centuries ago, there is a current, timely edge to the story and the approach the director takes, including one character declaring in the end he is ready to let go of his 100% masculine side and to welcome that feminine part of himself, preferring from here on to be referred to as “they” rather than “he.”

The costumes of Arianne Phillips delightfully reside a bit in Renaissance Greece and a lot in the 21st century, with designs wild, wooly, and whimsical all at the same time.  The lighting of Kevin Adams changes its vibrant colors of orange, yellow, blue, and red to reflect the ebullient and changing emotions of the moment; and characters’ sudden shifts and “ah-ha’s” of discoveries explode in hilarious ways in light and sound through the artistry of Mr. Adams and sound designer, Kai Harada.  The six-member, all-female band literally rocks in every respect under the direction of Kimberly Grigsby, perched as they are in the heavens above Arcadia. 

In these and all other respects, Heads Over Heels appears ready to take the Great White Way by storm.  The music of the Go-Go’s will thrill the group’s fans in the way it folds so easily into this fantasy story of old with all its modern new twists.  And those (like I confess, myself) who somehow missed the Go-Go’s in the early ‘80s will walk out and perhaps do what I did this morning during breakfast:  “Alexa, play some Go-Go’s music.”

Rating: 5 E “MUST-SEE”

Head Over Heels continue through May 6, 2018 at the Curran Theatre, , 445 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at or by calling the Box Office at 415-358-1220 between 10 a.m. and 6 pm. Monday through Friday.

Photo Credits: Joan Marcus

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