Actor’s Express is presenting “Head Over Heels,” music and lyrics by the Go-Go’s, creator and original book, Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”); adaptation by James Magruder; director, Freddie Ashley. The show runs through Aug. 25.
The entire musical confection is based on “The Arcadia,” a long prose pastoral romance by Sir Philip Sidney, toward the end of the 16th Century. The Go-Go’s are the first and only all-female band who wrote both their own songs and played their own instruments to ever top the Billboard charts. Think about it: Sir Philip Sidney and the Go-Go’s—it had to happen, no?
The music is quite jazzy and snazzy and keeps what could be a top-heavy boat afloat nicely. To call the show a jukebox musical comedy is not pejorative in my book. It’s fun and it works. It’s has the flavor of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “Much Ado About Nothing” with a touch of a medieval morality play thrown in—all for fun.
Actor’s Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley writes in his program notes: “Radical inclusion. Radical joy…It strikes me that finding joy through inclusion can be a subversive act in 2019 America.” Bravo, Mr. Ashley. If you aren’t in the habit of reading program notes, I recommend starting. You can learn a lot–and enjoy the play more as well.
The kingdom of Arcadia is prosperous and doing nicely; its people’s lives are governed by a mysterious “Beat” (“We’ve Got the Beat” is the perky opening song). King Basilius (Kevin Harry) and his wife Gynecia (Jennifer Alice Acker) have two daughters: the younger, Philoclea (Emily Whitley) is in love with her childhood friend Musidorus (Danny Crowe), but as a shepherd is not considered an appropriate match.
Philoclea’s older sister Pamela (Abby Holland) is considered the most beautiful woman in the land, but she regards her beauty as a burden since her “plain” sister doesn’t have to deal with suitors (“Beautiful”). A message arrives from Arcadia’s oracle Pythio (Trevor Perry), who wants a meeting with Basilius and his viceroy Dametas (Jeff McKerley). Pythio, who is non-binary, warns that Arcadia may lose its famous Beat and issues four prophecies, which do not bode well for the status quo of the kingdom.
By the way, gender fluidity is the name of the game in this kingdom: If you’re not fluid, you need to pivot. For example, sister Pamela is in love with her handmaiden Mopsa (Niki Badua.) And the basically heterosexual Musidorus does a fabulous job masquerading as an Amazon warrior named Cleophila.
All of the actor/singers I’ve mentioned above are excellent. Ms. Acker and Ms. Holland, who have fine, big voices, get a bit carried away sometimes; I like a good fortissimo as much as anybody, but a time or two they were almost screaming. A little minor adjustment would be pleasant. Everyone is miked, anyway.
Speaking of music, Alli Lingenfelter (music director) and her musicians are right on the money. Kari Twyman does some outstanding, witty choreography. The ensemble of dancers and singers is indispensable and outstanding.
You’ll recognize many songs (“Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”).
“Head Over Heels” is not one of the top ten musicals of all time, but hey—it’s summer, everybody’s looking for love, and in this show, they’ve got a good chance of finding it.
For tickets and information, visit actors-express.com.