×

Broadway Review: Go-Go’s Musical ‘Head Over Heels’

Graft some hits from the Go-Go’s songbook onto an Elizabethan prose poem and you get a lot of silly stuff.

With:
Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Mulligan, Peppermint, Tom Alan Robins, Alexandra Socha, Rachel York.

It’s really hard to laugh when somebody’s holding a gun to your head. That’s the way this Go-Go’s feels in “Head Over Heels,” an over-written, over-designed, and generally overdone production directed by Michael Mayer. From the sets and costumes to the performance style, the basic principle seems to be: Less is boring and more is never enough. Thanks, no doubt, to the Oracle of Delphi (played here by the impishly funny Peppermint), it’s a miracle that at least some of the wit in Jeff Whitty’s original book gets through.

The storyline is credited to Sir Philip Sidney, an Elizabethan sonneteer whose 180,000-word narrative poem, “The Arcadia,” inspired many other imitations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If Shakespeare could crib from this rom-com material (see “As You Like It”), so can Whitty and James Magruder, who did the adaptation for this Broadway production.

And a cute story it is, too — young lovers losing one another in the woods, dallying with substitute lovers, but reuniting with their own true loves at the end. As Sir Philip and Shakespeare told it, the twinned lovers were all boys and girls. In this modern version the gender identities are much more fluid.

A lusty rendition of the Go-Go’s mega-hit, “We Got the Beat,” introduces us to the enchanted kingdom of Arcadia, where good King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier, nice baritone) and his faithful but bored wife, Gynecia (the divine Rachel York), have become sexually jaded. But just as the king and queen lose that loving feeling, their two daughters awaken to their own.

Bonnie Milligan, who originated this choice role at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, bubbles over with merriment (and manages to sustain it) as the generously endowed elder daughter, Princess Pamela. Convinced of her own ravishing beauty (“Beautiful”), the dear girl rejects all her suitors, which gives her parents grief but delivers a lot of laughs.

Meanwhile, her supposedly plain but actually lovely younger sister, Philoclea (Alexandra Socha, who sings sweetly and dares to play her role with subtlety), falls in love with a shepherd. Musidorus the shepherd isn’t much of a prize, but Andrew Durand knocks himself out trying, trying, trying.

Pamela and Philoclea obediently pack up and leave Arcadia with the rest of the court (“Get Up and Go”) when the king misrepresents a dire warning from the Oracle of Delphi. That’s Peppermint, who miraculously doesn’t smother in the voluminous costumes designed for her by Arianne Phillips. But once the entire court, which includes the king’s viceroy, Dametas (the ever-reliable Tom Alan Robbins), and his beautiful daughter, Mopsa (newcomer Taylor Iman Jones), are deep in the forest, there’s always the chance they’ll be swallowed up by the sets (Julian Crouch) or blinded by the lack of lighting (Kevin Adams). “Vacation” drowns Mopsa in kitsch as she makes her way to the Island of Lesbos through a sea teeming with mermaids. One pleasing example of all this garish excess: the Temple of the Oracle, which Andrew Lazarow has hung with really creepy projections of writhing serpents. (“Slither hither,” the Oracle invites us.)

At some point in this endless journey, the characters begin to evade the ever-encroaching sets and manage to fall in love, or something like it. Here, finally, some of the Go-Go’s songs actually fit into the book scenes. Pamela and Mopsa discover one another in “Automatic Rainy Day.” The king and queen rekindle their love in “This Old Feeling.” Philoclea opens her heart to Musidorus in “Here You Are.” And Peppermint leads the full company in a rendering of “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” that’s worth the wait.

Coming as it does at the top of Act II, when everyone’s been on the road for so long they’ve all lost touch with the real world, the title song “Head Over Heels” actually makes sense. But the show never recovers from the pervasive feeling of exhaustion. There’s the exertion of making the stilted Spencer Liff choreography seem vaguely vogue. There’s the constant struggle to push and shove songs into places where they don’t fit. And then there’s the strain of re-configuring the character dynamics, fiddling with traditional gender distinctions until the show conforms to a woke notion of ideological transgression. A lot of push and pull goes into the work of making a musical — but this one shows the strain.

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: Go-Go's Musical 'Head Over Heels'

Hudson Theater; 960 seats; $149. Opened July 26, 2018. Reviewed July 24. TWO HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Christine Russell, Louise L. Gund, Donovan Leitch, Rick Ferrari, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scott Sigman, Hunter Arnold, Tom Kirdahy, Jordan Roth, Julie Boardman, Broadway Strategic Return Fund, Vikram Chatwal, John Gore Organization, Networks Presentations, Insurgent Media, Robert Kravis, Art Lab, LLC, Marc Bell, Mara Burros-Sandler, Carrie Clifford, Eric Cornell, Adam Gorgoni, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Marguerite Hoffman, Dr. Michael Mintz, Sandi Moran, Paramount Pictures, Van Horn Doran Group, Jonathan & Nancy Glaser / Lucy Fato & Matthew Detmer of a musical in two acts with songs by The Go-Go’s, conceived and written by Jeff Whitty, based on “The Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney, adapted by James Magruder, and originally produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Creative: Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreographed by Spencer Liff. Music supervision, orchestrations & arrangements, Tom Kitt. Sets, Julian Crouch; costumes, Arianne Phillips; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Kai Harada; projections, Andrew Lazarow; hair & makeup, Campbell Young Associates; production stage manager, Lisa Iacucci.

Cast: Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Mulligan, Peppermint, Tom Alan Robins, Alexandra Socha, Rachel York.

More Legit

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

  • A Very Expensive Poison review

    London Theater Review: 'A Very Expensive Poison'

    Vladimir Putin owes his power to the stage. The president’s closest advisor trained as a theatre director before applying his art to politics, and ran Russia like a staged reality, spinning so many fictions that truth itself began to blur. By scrambling the story and sowing confusion, Putin could exert absolute control. The long-awaited latest [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    Broadway Review: 'Betrayal' With Tom Hiddleston

    and Zawe Ashton as a long-married couple and Charlie Cox as the secret lover. Director Jamie Lloyd’s impeccable direction — now on Broadway, after a hot-ticket London run — strips Pinter’s 1978 play to its bare bones: the excruciating examination of the slow death of a marriage.  It’s a daring approach, leaving the characters nowhere [...]

  • Jayne Houdyshell arrives at the 71st

    'The Music Man' Revival Adds Four Tony Winners to Broadway Cast

    Tony Award-winners Jayne Houdyshell, Jefferson Mays, Marie Mullen and Shuler Hensley will join stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the upcoming Broadway revival of “The Music Man.” In “The Music Man,” Jackman will play con-man Harold Hill, who arrives in a small, fictional Iowa town called River City and urges the townsfolk to start [...]

  • Glen Basner Filmnation

    FilmNation's Glen Basner on Diversifying Beyond Movies by Focusing on Storytelling

    Glen Basner lives to make deals.  Be it Toronto or Cannes, Sundance or AFM, you’ll find the FilmNation founder in the throes of negotiations over pricing and marketing plans, schmoozing and working every angle to nail the best pact. Director Armando Iannucci, who worked with FilmNation on the upcoming “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content