BY ELYSE TREVERS
Hearing the opening dialogue of the new show “Head Over Heels” directed by Michael Mayer, you’d swear you’re watching a Shakespearean play. However, the new jukebox musical featuring the music of the ‘80s girl group, The Go-Gos, actually is an adaptation of “The Arcadia,” a story by Sir Phillip Sydney, a prominent 16th century courtier and poet.
Conceived with an original book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), “Head Over Heels” features many of the characteristics of Elizabethan comedies including disguises, secret love affairs, oracles and prophecies. Whitty’s version also highlights modern sexual relationships, including a same-sex love affair and a binary character (Peppermint, the first transgender performer on Broadway.)
Arcadia, ruled by King Basilius (a terrific Jeremy Kushnier) has the “beat,” as demonstrated by the ensemble singing “We Got the Beat” in the spirited opening number choreographed by Spencer Liff. However, the city is in jeopardy of losing it if the four predictions foretold by the oracle Pythio (Peppermint) occur. When the king hears the prophecies, he determines to ignore them and even refuses to share the oracles’ predictions with his wife Gynecia (the fantastic Rachel York.)
The king has two daughters, Pamela (Bonnie Milligan) the “beautiful one” courted by many male suitors for whom she feels no attraction and the “plain” younger sister ”Philoclea” (Alexandra Socha) loved by the simple shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand.) When Musidorus professes his love for Philoclea, the king rejects him and threatens to kill him if he returns. So the young man disguises himself as an Amazon and then the fun really begins, as all in the royal family find themselves attracted to him. Despite the watchfulness of Dametas, the King’s viceroy, the four prophecies come true, one even involving his own daughter Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones).
The story is contrived and would be somewhat confusing, if not for the each character summarizing the play’s events. Although the final moments of the story feel very Shakespearean and wordy, by the end, all the loose ends are resolved. “Dead” characters are alive, all find love, same sex or otherwise, and, most importantly, Gynecia is now on the throne.
The musical places a great emphasis on feminism. (Note the all-female band.) And why not? A major draw for many people will be the music of The Go-Gos, an all-female band who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments in the early 1980’s. With music supervision, orchestrations and arrangement by Thomas Kitt (Next To Normal,) “Head Over Heels” offers more than 15 songs by the group including “”Heaven Is a Place on Earth” “Vacation,” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.”
The talented cast and terrific performances will delight those who are true fans and know the Go-Go’s music. The rest of us may find ourselves immersed in the sexual contrivances of the story. The show is a musical amalgam- a 16th century story with 1980’s music and a 2018 political sensibility. Take a “Vacation” and go to “Head Over Heels” for an evening of fun, frolic and feminism.