|Cast of Head Over Heels (John McLellan)|
Head Over Heels
Through December 29, 2019
Head Over Heels, a somewhat silly and slight musical, is very like another silly and slight musical, Xanadu, without roller skates. It’s also got a Greek theme for the story, and instead of original music, writer Jeff Whitty chose the musical canon of the girl-group The Go-Gos to include as the songs.
The Go-Gos’ music is really well integrated into the plot which makes familiar songs pop as story-forwarding content. That’s hard to do well, and is a credit to the writers.
What makes this musical a teeny tiny bit more substantial than Xanadu is that the language is somewhat Elizabethan, rather than American Teenagan, and the characters include a non-binary Greek oracle and lesbians. Still, it’s a feel-good and farcical evening that most of the family can enjoy together.
A brief synopsis: Pompous Basilus (Louis Hobson) hears some startlingly bad predictions from the Oracle Pythio (Mila Jam) that have him rattled and determined to avoid them. His tranquil country is in danger of losing it’s “beat” if these predictions come true: His older daughter, Pamela (Alex Sturtevant), will consummate love with no man, his younger daughter, Philoclea (Rheanna Atendido), will wed a liar, he’ll commit adultery with his own wife, Gynecia (Ann Cornelius), and a new king will appear and he won’t be king any more.
He and his viceroy Dametus (Joseph Tancioco) lie to everyone that he’s been commanded to hunt a golden stag and everyone is going with him. A young shepherd, Musidorus (Eric Dobson), tries to gain permission to wed Philoclea with Philoclea’s full hopes as well, and fails, just before they all leave.
Pythio encourages Musidorus to follow them, but to disguise and dress as a woman. When he meets up with the party, they don’t recognize him, but both Gynecia and Basilus are attracted to him as the woman Cleophila.
Dametus’ daughter, Mopsa (Kataka Corn), who has been the girls’ friend and servant, begins to realize that Pamela might like women more than men and that Mopsa is in love with her. Other hijinks ensue as the prophecies come true one by one.
Director Mathew Wright does a great job moving the evening along with the help of terrific choreography by UJ Mangune and the Gypsy-award-winning music direction of RJ Tancioco. The enthusiastic ensemble infuses everything with energy and solid dancing and singing.
Outstanding costuming by Gypsy-award-nominated costume designer Jocelyne Fowler is opulent and interesting to look at, with swirls of patterns on tights, period costuming and over-the-top bling for Pythio to wear. Shiny fabric and faux jewels are everywhere.
One of the joys of musicals in smaller theaters like ArtsWest is discovering the young talent that is present in our universities and conservatories, at or near graduation. Corn and Sturtevant are among those who we’re just beginning to see on our main stages and are ones to watch in the near future.
A draw to this production is Mila Jam. A transgender star on YouTube, she’s no flash-in-the-pan celebrity, but has the charisma and singing chops to pull off the power of a Greek oracle.