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Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels
The Go-Gos (Songs); Jeff Whitty (Book); James Magruder (Adapter of Book)
Inspired by The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney
Curran Theatre

Two tried and true genres, the jukebox musical and Elizabethan romantic comedy gleefully collide in Head Over Heels, an eye-popping, toe-tapping creation currently residing at the Curran prior to its expected Broadway bow later this year. Jeff Whitty’s (“Avenue Q”) book, loosely based on Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th century prose poem “The Arcadia,” merges with the back catalog of 1980’s all-girl band the Go-Go’s in a delicious romp that skillfully combines Shakespearean iambic pentameter, pop-rock lyrics and plenty of bawdy comedy.

Taking a cue from 2015’s Broadway hit Something Rotten, the story is a contemporized romantic comedy with plenty of sex-positive gags, mistaken identities and silly gender bending. The selling point of this production seems to be the Go-Go’s songs, hits like “We Got the Beat,” “Mad About You,” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”.  While they are skillfully interwoven within the production, it’s the witty script and stellar lead performances that will make this show a sure-fire Broadway hit.

Whitty’s simplified Sidney’s story, but still you may need a score card to keep track of the ever-escalating shenanigans. But those familiar with Shakespeare won’t think twice, and novice’s have plenty of pizzazz, sparkle and humor to be captivated. The production is blessed with a crew-notch; Julian Crouch’s spectacular sets, Arianne Phillips costumes, Kevin Adams’ lighting, Kai Harada’s sound design, Spencer Liff’s vogue-like choreography and Andrew Lazarow’s projection designs. The look of this production is stunning, only exceeded by the acting performances and direction by Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening).

Head Over Heels cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

All the leads deliver Tony nominee performances. As heads of the royal family of Arcadia, Jeremy Kushnier (Basilius) and Rachel York (Gynecia) are assuredly imperious as they try to ward off an oracle’s prophesized doom (played with high camp by Peppermint). Their older daughter Pamela is much suited but never taken, played with unsubstantiated arrogance by Bonnie Milligan. Her younger sister Philoclea, who Pamela considers ‘plain’, will become the romantic heroine of the play. Her suitor is the lowly shepherd Musidoris (a breakout star turn by Andrew Durand), who along with Pamela are the comic foils of the piece. Taylor Iman Jones plays Mopsa, daughter of the King’s Viceroy Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins).

As the family flees Arcadia for safety in Bohemia, the zany plotlines kicks in full force: Basilius and his Queen will commit adultery with each other (you gotta see it), Musidoris finds his inner feminine as a cross dressing Amazon hero who everyone pursues, Pamela falls for Mopsa and of course doom (the loss of ‘the beat’) is averted. Head Over Heels is a delight; the music generally fits into the narrative, Whitty’s script (assisted by James Magruder’s adaptation) sparkles with wit and humor, and the entire look is fantastic. San Francisco was an excellent choice to preview this show given our liberal proclivities and sexual openness. Hopefully NYC will receive this show with open arms and hearts.

Head Over Heels continues through May 6, 2018 in production by Curran Theater, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at 415.358.1220 or www.sfcurran.com