Theater Review by Doug Sturdivant
My thoughts on Head Over Heels or— wonderfully woke in the woods.
I had no idea what to expect when I went into Head Over Heels. I knew I would hear some familiar Go-Go’s music and the play in the past, but that was about it. What I didn’t expect was a bawdy, sexy life and love-affirming romp that throws gender roles, sexual and body norms as well as pronouns to the Arcadian wind and embraces everyone for who they are.
Head Over Heels is a jukebox musical that works. All those Go-Go’s tunes fit seamlessly into the story. The music is from Lee Harris, and the band is perfect. Add Evor Wright’s inventive and almost athletic choreography to the mix, and you get a bit of musical theater heaven.
The plot is nothing new: mistaken identity, love requited, quests, couplings, and uncouplings. It’s familiar, for sure, but when dressed up in the elaborate costumes adapted by Suzi Cranford and Breianna Barrington and presented on Dennis Canright’s set that evokes both a wealthy family’s home and the woods, Head Over Heels feels new and original.
Anyone who saw Gentleman’s Guide, directed by Penny Ayn Maas at the WaterTower Theatre earlier this year, will attest that she is adept at musical comedy. Her prowess in this style is even more at the forefront here. She never misses a chance for a laugh or a sight gag and knows how to keep the comedy paced and when to let the show’s heart shine through.
To say that the cast that Maas has assembled is stellar is almost an understatement. As my companion, who had never been to an equity production before, remarked, “They are all so good. Everyone can sing!” I couldn’t agree more, but you must include the acting and dancing to that statement.
Tim Brawner is dashing as the self-centered King Basilius, who is threatened with the loss of “The Beat,” the power that is the foundation of the kingdom by the mystical Oracle of Delphi.
Caroline Rivera is his wife, Gynecia, who feels underappreciated and questions her husband’s motives. Rivera is one of those gifted comic actors who can get a laugh with a glare.
BBrian Hathaway portrays the loyal Dametas, father to Mopsa and husband to Pythio. The appealing Hathaway represents the “old guard” of Arcadia and learns that love comes in all forms.
His daughter Mopsa played by the effervescent Brett Warner, is the handmaiden to and in love with the vain Princess Pamela, played to the comic hilt by Laura Lites. Lites reading of Pamela’s “erotic” poetry gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Philoclea, Pamela’s plain sister, who loves the shepherd boy Musidorus., is played by the charming Kylie Stewart.
Lee Walter is stunningly costumed and threatening in the kindest possible way as oracle Pythio. Lee seems to channel a bit of Eartha Kitt in this role, and that deep, melodious voice could make just about anyone change their ways or their pronouns.
It’s Seth Paden as Musidorus, the shepherd who must prove his worthiness. He gives the most fearlessly funny performance. When Paden transforms into the Amazon Cleophila, whom everyone wants to wed or bed, the musical becomes nonstop fun as most characters try to win Cleophila’s heart or perhaps some other part. Paden puts his heart and comic soul into the role and reminds me of a young Roger Bart.
Supporting the main characters are some excellent dancers and singers that include Kylee Brown, Isaiah Christopher-Lord Harris, Gena Loe, Canali Miller, Grace Moore, Michael Mossucco, Michael Russell, Kelsey Jordan Ward, Evor Wright, and Sarah Youngblood.
Head over Heels will surprise you. It’s an antidote in play form for all the cruelty around us these days. It has humor and heart and hasn’t lost its beat!