Review by Kathleen Campion
Let’s start with, I had a really good time at Head Over Heels at the Hudson. I actually did walk out onto 44th Street humming the tunes. That’s partly because they were familiar.
Billed as a “new musical” Head Over Heels is lashed to the thrum of the early 80s hits of the Go-Go’s. (I know, you think you don’t remember the Go-Go’s…but the songs linger in your lizard brain. “Mad About You,” “This Old Feeling,” “We’ve Got the Beat”)
Along with the period music, the plot is framed as a faux-classic ramble — the mythic kingdom of Arcadia has drawn the ire of the Delphic Oracle who, in the way of oracles, offers up an opaque prophesy, which sends the players on a trek of discovery.
The thematic thrust here is “binary is so last century!” It’s not so much politically edgy as it is gently teasing, a crash course on LBGTQ+ sensibility, but all very safe. This high-spirited production is for folks looking for a good time — a lot of pounding good music — young actors with powerhouse voices — and a director who knows his way around a farce.
Jeff Whitty’s book, based on Sir Philip Sidney’s poem The Arcadia, addresses the message in entertaining, if sometimes puerile, ploys: the un-woke virgin, strangely disinterested in male suitors, reads her unfinished poem aloud, searching dimly for the obvious. Whitty has fun with a rhyming device as Pamela probes her orientation. If you are old enough to know what intrinsically female word rhymes with “hunt”…well, I think you know where we’re going.
There are moments of hilarity, the kind of laughter that catches you up and keeps doubling back. Dressing dancers as sheep is a little funny…dressing beautiful young Broadway-baby boys as slightly swishy sheep is just a giggle. It’s not “dancing sheep” so much as a play on Python’s “We Like Sheep” skit; it’s its own silly, monumentally funny moment. Say no more.
The audience was suspiciously enthusiastic, suggesting a loyal fan base and, perhaps, a papered Thursday night house. When Peppermint, a marquee name from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” makes her entrance (as well as the Broadway debut of a transgender woman in a leading role) the room went crazy. Actually, the room was already a little light-headed. My guest noted it had the feel of the early days of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Much of the audience was dressed in gender-signifying outfits — again, nothing naked and pierced, — just a kind of lighthearted play.
The cast is pretty and talented. Bonnie Milligan developed the role of Pamela at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is a viscountess of vanity, princess of preening, a madonna of me.
Milligan plays her broadly. She never misses an opportunity to wink the audience into her character. She is perfect.
Taylor Imam Jones, plays Pamela’s servant and so much more. Jones and Alexandra Socha and Andrew Durand all bring strong, distinctive voices and a fair share of comic timing. Durand, in and out of drag, is terrific, with moments of manic madness.
The dancers work in twos and fours and in larger assemblies. Some of the transitions are a little rocky, probably only noticeable because the complex production numbers are executed with such joy and precision. The band driving the sound is flawless and powerful and, like the Go-Gos, all women.
Kevin Adams’ lighting is stunning, Kai Harada’s sound is crucial. Spenser Liff’s choreography is dazzling; everyone moves well all of the time. I wanted to see this show because it’s reeking with talented people behind the lights and before. If I started listing set designer Julian Crouch’s credits, director Michael Mayer’s credits or writer Jeff Whitty’s credits, we’d be here all day.
While there is some talk on this show suggesting it may not make enough to fill out its run, I’m hopeful. I’d buy a ticket.
Head Over Heels – Songs by the Go-Gos; based on The Arcadia; conceived and original book by Jeff Whitty; adapted by James Magruder; and directed by Michael Mayer.
WITH: Jeremy Kushnier (Basilius), Rachel York (his wife), Bonnie Milligan (Pamela, their older daughter), Alexandra Socha (Philoclea, younger daughter), Tom Alan Robbins (Dametas, the King’s viceroy), Taylor Imam Jones (Mopsa, his daughter), Andrew Durand (Musidorus, a shepherd), Peppermint (Pythio, the Oracle).
Designed by Julian Crouch; lighting by Kevin Adams; sound by Kai Harada; choreographer by Spencer Liff. Music supervisor is Tom Kitt; songs written by the Go-Gos. 101 Productions is the general manager and Executive Producer. There are reams of additional producers. At the Hudson Theatre, 141 W 44th Street, Manhattan, through February 17, 2018. Running time: 2hours 15 minutes with one intermission.