“Head Over Heels” the Go-Go’s/Elizabethan Musical Mashup Entertains at Miami
Review by Liz Eichler
When a cast has fun, the audience has fun. That is very true about Miami University Theatre’s “Head Over Heels,” an over the top jukebox musical, which opened Wednesday, April 20 and runs just until April 24 at 2 p.m.
Yes, “Head Over Heels” features the songs of the 1980’s group the Go-Go’s, but it is set in ancient Greece, with Elizabethan language and costume, and very modern sensibilities and LGTBQ themes which resonated with the Opening Night college audience. Based on a long prose romance written around 1590 by Sir Philip Sidney, it is the story of the royal family of Arcadia, all looking for love. The eldest daughter Pamela is of marriage age and no prince or king captures her heart or matches her beauty. Younger sister Philoclea has fallen in love with a lowly shepherd, a match her parents will not allow. The King and Queen’s relationship has lost its passion, and the king’s assistant and his daughter are also pining for love. The town is warned that they are at risk for losing their “beat.” The King makes a secret visit to the glamorous non-binary Oracle (Chase Weimerskirch) who reveals four predictions, which the king ignores, but nevertheless the whole court travels to the countryside to ensure the predictions do not come true. Of course, they do.
This platypus of a musical farce was written and conceived by Jeff Whitty, adapted by James Magruder and features 18 songs from The Go-Go’s (Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin). It premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015 with a Broadway run in 2018. While the cast delivers the cumbersome Elizabethan language with strong articulation, it becomes clear why the show did not last long on Broadway–it is quite an odd mashup. But the cast doesn’t question, they deliver. Directed by the dynamic duo of Lindsey Augusta Mercer and Music Director Erin McCamley, they move the story along with joy, killer voices, strong dancers, and attitude.
There are so many great voices who can deliver the songs and the riffs with Mariah Carey-style vocal gymnastics even if the music of the Go-go’s was new to the cast born in the ‘90’s. In particular, beautiful Princess Pamela (Rachel Fischmar), plain sister Philoclea (Emily Stowers), unfulfilled Mom Gynecia (Taylor Yaeck), and page Mopsa (Kit Gladieux) all have the opportunity to belt, and even compete with their musical embellishments. Standout harmonies include “Good Girl,” “Automatic Rainy Day,” “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “This Old Feeling,” and, well, so many great songs in both acts. Musidorus the shepherd’s (Ryn Bondi) first song “Mad About You” may give you goosebumps, as the simplicity of the staging finally anchors the musical for a minute…until the dancing sheep join in. (The sheep and 4 person dancing ensemble are always giving 110%, especially the pigtailed Alex Leurk. The rest of the ensemble includes Lauren Claxton, Liza Dwyer, Megan Fiorella, Tod Fish, Lily Freiberg, Camilla Olsen, Haley Sieg, Abby Sokol, and Lana Traum.) King Basilius (Tadeo Palofox) and Demetas (Joseph Sheridan) round out the cast. Choreography (Ashley Goos) ranges from ballet to a lot of synchronized ‘80’s dance moves which the cast performs with gusto.
Not enough can be said about the costumes (Lisa Martin-Stuart). WOW. What a fun design, and they all looked so well made with amazing attention to detail. A highlight is the parade of kings, in over the top caricatured royal full-body costumes. Scenery (Gion DeFrancesco) and lighting (Marly Wooster and Ruby Gray) work so well together, as there are lit columns on stage and effective columns of light and effective use of shadows. The audience loved the sexy scenes in silhouette and chatted about them on the way out. There’s also a fantastic uncredited snake puppet that slithers into the first act.
Great job, Miami, on translating this rather difficult bold new musical into something not only accessible to the audience (75% college age) but also celebrating song and the enduring power of love–whomever it is. I encourage every theatre person to catch this rare production of “Head Over Heels.” Tickets are available HERE.
Liz Eichler, MTA, MBA, is a past president of the League of Cincinnati Theatres, former professional costume designer and current grad and undergrad marketing faculty in the University of Dayton School of Business Administration.