A 16th century queer romance that’s a jukebox musical set to the hits of The Go-Gos? It’s hard not to think “train wreck potential” when you hear the synopsis of Head Over Heels, the musical Monumental Theatre Company is tackling right now.
It’s a pleasure to learn that Head Over Heels is actually pretty delightful.
The pastoral romance plot is taken from The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, and the language has a Restoration comedy vibe to it. In the tradition of shows like Mamma Mia!, a goofy story binds together a seemingly unrelated collection of songs. In short, a royal family is on a journey together after an oracle’s prophecy warns them of tragedy that will ensue courtesy of their king’s stubborn, old fashioned ways.
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If they’re not careful, the “beat” that governs their lives in the mythical land of Arcadia could disappear forever (explaining the premise, it may not be surprising that the Go-Gos’ biggest hit, “We Got The Beat,” proves to be the one trickiest to credibly shoehorn into the show’s fantastical plot). Along the way, traditional gender constructs are cast aside and an important message of inclusiveness emerges.
Monumental’s appealing group of youthful performers, with the help of Ahamad Maaty’s inventive, cheeky choreography, embrace the show’s silliness and bring buoyancy and even occasionally some pathos to the quirky show and the Go-Go’s catalogue (I was curious how many songs from the band I’d even recognize — turns out it was more than a half dozen, especially when former frontwoman Belinda Carlilse’s solo career gets thrown into the mix). The plaintive “Mad About You” is written as a marriage proposal from a shepherd beneath his station (John Sygar) ; “Good Girl” gives a people-pleasing daughter (Lauren Farnell) a chance to lament her recent choices. “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” is the backdrop for a steamy sex scene between two partners who mistakenly think they’re cheating on each other; “Our Lips Are Sealed” gives the chance for two pairs of covert lovers to talk about their hidden romance. As the cast moves through these songs, it’s not unusual for, say, a pack of bleating sheep or a chorus of dancing mermaids to show up.
Head Over Heels closes March 23, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
Monumental has assembled a powerhouse crew of vocalists for the occasion, including Rachel Barlaam as the vain princess Pamela, Adelina Mitchell has her loyal handmaiden, and Candice Shedd-Thompson as their put-upon mother, the queen. A note: the cast can occasionally be a little melisma-happy, and the enthusiastic band’s sound, echoing from above the stage, has a tendency to compete with the singers for dominance.
Head Over Heels’ costumes have a shabby Renaissance feel to them, and dialogue is often chuckle-worthy, if admittedly broad. Most importantly, it all feels fresh and fun, with a willingness to gently push boundaries (one of the show’s performance highlights is from Garnet Williams as the self-possessed Pythio, an oracle who also happens to be a plural, gender non-binary snake creature; the program lists each creative artist’s pronouns). It’s easy to enter Head Over Heels skeptical that the world really needs a musical woven together with hits from the Go-Gos, but it’s hard to leave the theater without appreciating the one we ended up with.
Head over Heels. Conceived and original book by Jeff Whitty (adapted by James Magruder. Based on The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney. Songs by the Go-Gos. Directed by Jimmy Mavrikes. Music direction: Marika Countouris. Choreography by Ahmad Maaty. With Brice Guerriere, Candice she’d-Thompson, Rachel Barlaam, Lauren Farnell, Greg Atkin, Adelina Mitchell, John Sygar, Topher Williams, Savina Barini, Ricardo Blagrove, Cam Shegogue, Morgan Kelleher, Marianna Ceccatti, Brett Klock, Joe McAlonan, and Kaeli Patchen. Production Stage Manager: Abby Nolan. Lighting Designer: Venus Gulbranson. Sound Designer Tosi Olufolabi. Props Designer Rich Farella. Set Designer: James Raymond. Costume Designer Jenn Pinkos. Fight Choreographer: Greg Atkin. Produced by Monumental Theatre Company . Reviewed by Missy Frederick.