Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Albuquerque Little Theatre

The Go-Go's Musical Fairy Tale

By: Jun. 12, 2024
Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Albuquerque Little Theatre
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Head Over Heels is a jukebox musical with music and lyrics from the catalog of 1980s girl band The Go-Go’s.  With a book by Jeff Whitty, adapted by James Magruder, the plot is derived from the 16th century play The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney. Head Over Heels opened on Broadway in 2018 and ran for six months. It is currently running through June 16 at Albuquerque Little Theatre in Albuquerque, NM.

To say that Whitty and Magruder took many liberties with the original romantic play is an understatement. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around a succinct summary of the plot, because the plot is all over the place.

Here goes: The royal family of Arcadia needs to begin a hero’s quest to keep their famous “Beat” that keeps their kingdom going. The Beat is in danger of being stomped out by visions delivered by a nonbinary oracle named Pythio (Nathen Illidge-Welch), who warns of plot twists that will follow, telegraphing the end of the kingdom. They embark on a trip to the kingdom of Bohemia, where, I guess they’ll find the beat?

Doesn’t matter, because that’s the last we’ll hear of the beat until the last 10 minutes of the show. Side plots consist of Princess Philoclea (Lindsey Meek) wanting to marry below her station, her love interest a childhood friend named Musidorus (Westin Huffman), now employed as a shepherd. Their older daughter Pamela (Adrianne Wise) refuses to marry any suitor brought before her and realizes she has feelings for her servant Mopsa (Kyra Sprague).  King Basilius (Nicholas Handley) is a philanderer, his wife Gyecia (Jillian Foster) is an unfulfilled cougar and they’re all on the quest to keep the Beat alive.

I’m already exhausted. Working with possibly the worst book in musical theater history (and I’ve seen both Diana and Carrie the musicals), I have to give it up for this cast. I only wish they gave in more to the camp of the script and didn’t take the very nonsensical and murky dialogue so seriously. The book is bad, and if the cast seemed in on that, the show would be much more enjoyable.

That’s not to say it was all bad – the musical numbers are quite good, both vocally and with clever choreography from Devon Frieder. Some standout vocals from Adrianne Wise (Pamela), Lindsey Meek, (Philoclea), Westin Huffman (Musidorus) and Jillian Foster (Gynacia) made this show watchable, as did the chorus numbers featuring standout dancer Rayne Baca, who was completely engaging and giving her all – I heard a woman behind us compare her to a “young Rita Moreno.” Agreed.

This cast did give their all – alas, to some really poor source material. Since 2018 or so this trope of the jukebox musical/fairy tale is being produced in abundance, but it’s not working on any level – if you look at the reviews of the Broadway runs of Head Over Heels, Bad Cinderella, Once Upon a One More Time, they are not good. These musicals, along with 2019’s Jagged Little Pill, all try to cram every hot-button topic into a plot, but none of them have been successful. The only one that somehow survived, despite equally blah plot and reviews is & Juliet. Go figure.

If you want some cute and well-executed musical numbers and are willing to put up with the deadly dialogue and awful book stringing them together, then you might enjoy this production. I urge our local theaters to really read the script before buying the rights – especially if it was written in the more recent past and includes a fairytale kingdom.

 



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