Broadway won’t be going to a go-go for long. “Head Over Heels,” the Elizabethan period farce scored incongruously to the music of the Go-Go’s, has posted a closing notice five months into its Broadway run at the Hudson Theatre.
Vacationers still have six weeks to get to it over the holiday season, though; the final performance has been set for Jan. 6. By that date, the show will have played 188 regular performances, on the heels of 37 previews that began June 23 at the Hudson.
A cast album had been released less than three weeks ago, with 19 theatrical performances of Go-Go’s or Belinda Carlisle solo songs augmented by a brand new recording of “This Town” by the original five members of the group (the first time the quintet had been in the studio together since the 2000 album “God Bless the Go-Go’s”).
The musical was considered a crowd-pleaser, especially among LGBT audiences who took to the laughs based in gender-bending and non-binary themes. But selling a Go-Go’s score transposed to a distant century was always a tough sell, and decidedly mixed reviews weren’t altogether helpful in drawing a crowd. The show struggled most weeks to exceed 50 percent of the Hudson’s capacity, even with more reasonable ticket prices than many of its competitors, and the good will of some well-heeled producers (who included actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Donovan Leitch) is believed to be a big reason why “Head Over Heels” soldiered on past the point when others might have pulled the plug.
“Along with my partners, creative team and cast, it was our desire to create a piece of live theatre that celebrates love of all kinds and portrays a world of beauty in which joy and acceptance reign above all else,” said lead producer Christine Russell in a statement. “We are incredibly proud of what ‘Head Over Heels’ has come to represent, not only on Broadway, but for future generations of theatergoers.”
Many of the responses to the closing notice on social media spoke to the show wearing its socially progressive heart on its sleeve, as the @HOHmusical Twitter account retweeted messages like, “Thanks for giving young LGBT folks the fairytale we were denied as children. Y’all mean the world to me.”
Ben Brantley’s review in the New York Times drew controversy when he referred to the androgynous oracle character played by former “Drag Race” contestant Peppermint as “her — I mean them,” riffing off a pronoun joke that occurs in the script. The review that now appears on the Times’ website has a note that the content has been edited; Brantley publicly apologized, saying, “I was trying to reflect the light tone of the show, as well as a plot point in which one character learns to acknowledge another not as ‘she’ but as ‘they.’ This unfortunately read as more flippant than I would ever have intended, especially with regard to a performance that marks a historical first. I am deeply sorry.”
In the less controversial passages of his review, Brantley called the show “a shotgun wedding of song and script,” wishing “this oddly earnest show could really kick up its heels and let the message take care of itself.” Other critical notices ran the gamut. A Variety review of the original San Francisco production enthused, “The mix of ’80s music and 1680s setting is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and that’s a good thing.” A subsequent Variety review of the New York opening said “the show never recovers from the pervasive feeling of exhaustion.” The critical split had the Village Voice writing, “Shrewd, funny, sexy, and with a glorious beat, ‘Head Over Heels’ will have you flipping for joy,” while the New York Post carped, “This indulgent show is wackier than it is fun.”
Some theatergoers outside of New York will likely have a chance to decide for themselves. Drawing on a limited but very ardent fan base and mostly positive word-of-mouth, a touring version is expected for 2019.