When you combine the infectious beats of The Go-Go’s with the prose romance The Arcadia, you get an interesting mix of pop punk Renaissance flair. Head Over Heels opened Wednesday at The Curran, bringing the beat to San Francisco before heading to Broadway later this summer. The team that brought you unique musicals like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening, and Avenue Q redefines the musical comedy with this funky Elizabethan story.
Our story begins with The Go-Go’s anthem “We Got the Beat,” as we are introduced to a kingdom threatened by a mysterious oracle’s prophecy. To save the kingdom Arcadia and maintain their beat, the royal family and their citizens journey to Bohemia to challenge fate, faced with many comedic obstacles along the way.
Head Over Heels pays tribute to The Go-Go’s vast catalogue that blends surprisingly well onstage. The score’s energy is matched by the incredible ensemble of dancers, singers, and comedians that make the Head Over Heels cast. The king and queen (Jeremy Kushnier and Rachel York) attempt to hold on to their kingdom, while learning to rekindle their relationship. The older daughter, Pamela (Bonnie Milligan) had impeccable comedic timing to back a powerful voice, along with the operatic flair of the Philoclea (Alexandra Socha). The narrator Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones) was infectious with her commanding vocals and infectious personality, as well of the shepherd’s (Andrew Durand) hilarious pursuit of Philoclea. Overseeing the comic mischief was Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, played by RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 contestant Peppermint, making their theatrical stage debut. Peppermint brought humor with their fierce delivery, along with a haunting rendition of the showstopper, “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
Two worlds collided, presenting the audience the prose and story with the likeness of a Shakespearean comedy, along with the edge and electricity of jukebox musical, creating a harmonious synergy that celebrated both mediums. Introducing contemporary ideas and themes to such a period piece, created the atmosphere for the characters to burst out of their shells with the help of a Go-Go’s infused score. This is an unlikely paring that produced a theatrical experience we have never seen before, while also celebrating classical theater at the same time.
However, this new musical isn’t without some pratfalls when it comes to the book. While Mopsa serves as our observer, much like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, her story isn’t as complete as I would expect from such an important character. We also see the narrative of the all-important “beat,” which drives the pulse of the kingdom of Arcadia, not being present enough to drive the conflict of their journey, and serves more of a bookend to the characters internal conflict.
Not only is Head Over Heels unique in style, but in theme as well, quite specifically with it’s representation of LGBTQ+ characters and stories. A lesbian relationship that played more romantically, not often seen in our society between two women in love. These characters were mad about each other, surrounded by an ensemble of dancers paired with members of the same sex. While queer artists have always been well represented in theater, their stories are rarely played out as beautifully as they were in Head Over Heels. This musical also adds to the gender discussion, presenting for the first time a non-binary character. Never would I think the pronouns of a non-binary character (they/them) would be belted out in a Broadway-bound musical, a historic moment for contemporary theater.
Overall, Head Over Heels had the audience in stiches, as well as dancing down the aisle. This musical is truly one of a kind and with some more work, is well on its way to finding its beat to become a smash hit for New York audiences.
Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.