×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream review

    London Theater Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be many things. There are earthy “Dreams,” airy “Dreams,” saucy “Dreams” and sweet “Dreams.” It’s Shakespeare’s most malleable play. Nicholas Hytner’s new staging strives to set itself apart, plunging its immersive audience into a festival-style fairy kingdom and casting the ethereal, white-blonde Gwendoline Christie (fresh off “Game of Thrones”) as [...]

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content