Review: ‘Head Over Heels’ (the Go-Go’s musical) presented by The Curran (*****)

by Charles Kruger

The court of Arcadia on display at the opening of the Curran’s production of Broadway bound “Head Over Heels,” featuring the music of the Go Go’s. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Can a minor late renaissance play be the inspiration for a successful modern musical, written in iambic pantameter, utilizing the music of an all girl 80’s pop punk band?

You better believe it! Mark my words: Broadway is going to fall head over heels for “Head Over Heels,” the Go-Go’s musical. On opening night of its pre-Broadway engagement at the Curran theater, the Tony buzz was already floating at intermission.

A little history:

Sir Philip Sydney wrote his pastoral romance, “Arcadia,” to amuse his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, way back in the 70s. That would be the 1570s. It was passed around in manuscript among Sydney’s circle, and quickly disappeared from view.

But a decade later, Sir Philip revised it and, after his death, Elizabethan poet (and Sir Philip’s biographer) Fulke Greville arranged for its publication. People loved its exciting episodes and romantic depiction of country life.

It first reached the wicked stage in 1640, adapted by the minor playwright James Shirley, today remembered mostly by scholars.

Like Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” “Arcadia” is a pastoral romance in which a sophisticated court finds themselves exiled to the country where they indulge in various dalliances and succumb to the charm of the shepherd’s life.

As in other Elizabethan plays, the wit is palpable, and the gender fluid. This was enough to capture the imagination of writer Jeff Whitty, who understood that the basic outline of the plot (which includes love-making with mistaken identities, and a love object who disguises himself as an Amazon who seduces a King). This was a good idea. But maintaing iambic pantameter and combining it with the musical beat of The Go Go’s was a stroke of genius.

When the court of Arcadia opens the festivities with “We Got The Beat,” joy takes the stage and never lets go.

Everything delights, including the magical scenic design by Julian Crouch, and the wonderful costumes of Arianne Phillips. Spencer Liff’s witty, contemporary choreography never flags, and Michael Mayer’s direction is as polished as you would expect from a Tony winner (“Spring Awakenings”).

The cast, consisting of Broadway veterans and soon-to-be Broadway veterans are clearly having a great time, and the fun is infectious. Standouts include Andrew Durand as the cross-dressing shepard, Musidorus. In one virtuosic comedic scene, Durand simultaneously seduces the king with one side of his body (dressed as an Amazon), and the queen with the other (presented as an apparently body-building shepherd).  He’s not just funny, though. He has an appealing vulnerability and sings like the Broadway pro he is.

Peppermint is headed for Broadway success as The Oracle of Delphi in “Head Over Heels.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Peppermint (best known as a winner on Ru-Paul’s Drag Race) more than holds her own as an oracle whose dire predictions set the plot in motion. When the show reaches New York in July, she will be the first transgender woman to create a principle role on The Great White Way (happily not-so-damn-White in this instance). Prediction: Once Peppermint hits Broadway, she’s gonna stick around for a long time.

Go see this and get your “I was there” bragging rights. You won’t regret it. And speaking of oracles, this reviewer predicts: “Tony nominations galore!”

‘Head over Heels’ continues at the Curran theater through May 6, 2018. For further information, click here.

_____________________________

Rating: ***** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Head Over Heels” presented by the Curran. Conception & book by Jeff Whitty, based on “The Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney, adapted by James Magruder. Songs by The Go Go’s. Director: Michael Mayer. Choreographer: Spencer Liff.  Music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements: Tom Kitt. Music Director: Kimberly Grigsby. Scenic Design: Julian Crouch. Costume D esign: Arianne Phillips. Lighting Design: Kevin Adams. Sound Design: Kai Harada. 

Cast:

Basilus: Jeremy Kushnier. Gynecia: Rachel York. Pamela: Bonnie Milligan. Philoclea: Alexandra Socha. Dametas: Tom Alan Robbins.Mopsa: Taylor Ian Jones. Musidorus: Andrew Durand. Pythio: Peppermint. Ensemble: Amber Ardolino, Yurel Echezarreta, Ari Groover, Tanya Haglund, Gregory Liles, Samantha Pollino, Justin Prescott, Ricardo A. Zayas. 

 

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