It’s always a bit dicey when a new “jukebox” musical comes out. My biggest concern always is how far of a stretch will the music be to fit the plot given? Although it happened a few times, overall the new musical Head Over Heels features the music and lyrics from the catalog of The Go-Go’s, a 1980’s all-female-rock band. The show has gone through a journey from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, to San Francisco in 2018 and finally opening on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre on July 26, 2018. The musical made headlines for being one of the most inclusive musicals on Broadway with its themes that push boundaries on gender, sexual orientation and love.
Head Over Heels takes place during the 16th century and is somewhat based on The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia written by Sir Philip Sidney. It begins when the King of Arcadia, Basilius, hears the prophecy and warnings from the oracle Pythio. They (Pythio identifies as non-binary) tells the King about four prophecy that will come true and send the Kingdom spiraling. If the King can manage to even make one not come true, they will be saved. If all four are achieved that they will lose “their beat” as a Kingdom. The King then takes his kingdom on a journey through the forest in attempt to ensure the prophecies involving his wife and two daughters do not come true.
The show really is a spectacle to the senses. The set, designed by Julian Crouch, utilizes various two-dimensional scenic piece from outdoor scenery to buildings in the Kingdom and even a snake that delivers the oracle’s messages. Normally I feel that lighting design is complimented by the set but this show flips that around as it was the lighting that was tantalizing with vibrant colors of magenta, yellow, green and every other color you can think of. The light really helped add a unique feel to a Broadway stage while also listening to Broadway adapted versions of rock songs. Arianne Phillips also designed beautifully crafted period pieces that still, again, feel modern in a way.
Now the plot does have some issues. It can be a little forceful at times with almost every character in the show questioning their sexuality. The Kingdom is threated to have their “beat” taken away as if the “beat” is the heart of their liveliness. However, this mention was not threaded throughout the entire show. It felt like it was a concept that would set off the chronicle of events but only pop up again at random times. It was very much a disconnect. The Queen (played by Rachel York) has a monologue near the end of the show where she talks about creating a new Arcadia. One that is accepting of people who go against the grain of what is considered the social norm. For me it’s the message that touched me. It was moments like this. The message of acceptance for queer people. The message that queer people exist and should be written into musicals, plays, TV shows, and not be overlooked in real life.
While the script has some bumps, it is the superb cast that makes this production really find its beat. Many of the men give fine performances including Andrew Durand as the Shepard who goes on an adventure of a lifetime to be with his love and Jeremy Kushnier who plays the King of Arcadia. It is fitting that in a show with music by an all-female rock group that the women of the show really lead it through and through. Rachel York’s smoky and brassy voice has always been one of my favorites after seeing her in the PBS version of Kiss Me, Kate and live in Anything Goes. I could listen to her sing all day. Pamela, the queen’s eldest daughter, is played by Bonnie Milligan and is the biggest stand out for this show with her witty comedic timing and incredible belting (dubbed ‘Belting Bonnie’ in the Broadway community). Milligan has also been with the show since its inception. RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Peppermint plays Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, and made history as the first trans woman to originate a principal role on Broadway. She commanded the stage and radiated a diva-like superiority over the mortals.
The show’s overall message is clear and concise with what this country needs and that is acceptance. The ability to open your heart and accept those around you whether they love the same gender or identify as another. The acting, singing and dancing are all divine however, it stands that the plot is still convoluted and will need a bit more attention if it plans on touring. The most important thing about any show is the plot and that is still lacking despite all the fun that is shown on stage.
Head Over Heels is currently playing at the Hudson Theatre in New York City. Tickets can be found online or through their digital mobile rush tickets through TODAYTIX.
*Head Over Heels also just announced they will be releasing a cast recording that is set to release on Oct. 12.