Theatre Review: HEAD OVER HEELS Keeps the Beat Going Strong at New Line
I had completely forgotten how many hits The Go-Go’s had – and then I saw Head Over Heels at New Line Theater. Song after song, expertly choreographed number after number, it’s safe to say that this show has the beat!
It’s a pretty unique jukebox musical, adapted from the 16th Century Elizabethan play The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney. Jeff Whitty wrote the original version of the show, which would later be adapted by James Magruder – with Tom Kitt brought in as music supervisor. The show ran for over five months on Broadway before the licensing rights were made available last year. And who better to pick up a wildly fun show like this than New Line?
The Kingdom of Arcadia is ruled by King Basilius (Zachary Allen Farmer), with Queen Gynecia (Carrie Priesmeyer), and two daughters – the “beautiful” Pamela (Grace Langford) and the “plain” Philoclea (Melissa Felps) – by his side. Everything seems wonderful, as the town celebrates (“We’ve Got the Beat”) – until the oracle Pythio (Tielere Cheatem) foresees four prophesies that will lead to the end of Arcadia as they know it. The King decides to leave with his family, along with his advisor Dametas (Aaron Allen) and his daughter Mopsa (Jaclyn Amber) – handmaid to Pamela and Philoclea. The King’s youngest daughter must say goodbye to her childhood friend Musidorus, who is considered unfit for her to love and marry. Not giving up so easily, the shepherd proclaims his love (“Mad About You”) and sets out on the road to win her hand one way or another.
Head Over Heels is a plethora of riches for the senses. There is so much to take in at all times, and it’s an absolute blast. The bright and colorful costumes are beautifully designed by the talented Courtney Gibson and Sarah Porter – some of their best work yet. The music, as mentioned previously, is sensational – thanks to the New Line Band, lead by Nicolas Valdez and Cullen Curth. And Rob Lippert’s scenic design is terrific as always – complete with great pillars and a cave of skeletons who were once unlucky explorers. And the choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack is probably the best I have ever seen from the company.
The casting is top-notch, comprised of many New Line regulars. Farmer is great as always as King Basilus, administering a commanding presence and voice that kills during “This Old Feeling” opposite Gynecia. Priesmeyer is wonderful as the Queen, a force to be reckoned with in her own right. The two of them make for a great pairing.
Langford and Felps are terrific as the two sisters who could not be more different from one another. Both have great voices, and are so much fun to watch. Pamela is as vain as they come, and loves to sing about her beauty and admirers (“Beautiful”). Langford looks to be having a blast while leaning into the character and absolutely nails it. Meanwhile, Philoclea is kind and sweet, and wants to marry Musidorus for happiness and love. Felps is great at making you care for her character, and it’s easy to wish her happiness. “Good Girl” and “Here You Are” are impressive samplings of her vocal abilities.
Clayton Humburg as Musidorus might be my favorite part of the show. The actor has a charisma that makes it hard not to smile when he takes to the stage. He is perfect as the romantic shepherd, and has a genuine quality about him that is hard to match. The show has created a number that solidifies the love of the character, which is “Mad About You,” where he is singing with backup from his sheep. It is hilarious, and amazing, and if there was ever any doubt about how much fun this show is – this number puts it to rest. Humburg also does double duty as the amazon Cleophila, who is actually Musidorus in disguise. It’s a fun role to watch, and Humburg exceeds expectations.
Aaron Allen is fantastic as Dametas. He won me over with his portrayal of Moonface Martin in New Line’s Anything Goes, and I will forever be a fan of his comedic sensibilities. Jaclyn Amber fits nicely as his daughter and the handmaid who wants more than a life of servitude. Her role becomes an important one in the story, and it’s great to watch the character’s transition from beginning to end. And it was great to see Tielere Cheatem again, who was terrific in La Cage aux Folles. His portrayal of Pythio has an undeniable swagger and confidence that is always a delight.
This may be the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen at New Line, with a pairing of four male and four female actors who perfectly complement one another. The ensemble has a lot of heavy lifting to do, with beautifully choreographed dances that complement the leads, and also help tell the story. The way that they are paired together at first, and then split off to change parters is brilliant in combination with the story. I adored watching them from beginning to end. Kudos to Kevin Corpuz, Evan Fornachon, Chris Kernan, Chris Moore, Maggie Nold, Michelle Sauer, Alyssa Wolf, and Sara Rae Womack.
Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor have done a wonderful job putting together this show with a large cast, and a lot always going on. With staging that is practically in the round, as the audience is split down the middle with the stage in-between, it’s a large undertaking to make sure it goes smoothly. The action is always easy to follow, and meticulous attention was paid to focusing on both sides of the audience.
Head Over Heels is a lot of fun. With so much to take in and enjoy, there’s never a shortage of entertainment on-stage. If you have forgotten how many catchy songs The Go-Go’s have performed, this show is the perfect reminder. And for those unfamiliar with them, it’s a great introduction. It’s an unlikely story to be paired up with these songs, yet it works perfectly. And for a book that was written over 400 years ago, it’s amazing how timely the subjects can feel.
At the time of review, performances of Head Over Heels will continue as scheduled at New Line – Thursday through Saturday until March 28. Tickets are available via MetroTix. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com.
Photos: Jill Ritter Lindberg