Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Zach is a Party Where Everyone is Welcome

This joyous musical is now playing through September 10th, 2023.

By: Aug. 16, 2023
Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Zach is a Party Where Everyone is Welcome
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Loosely based on Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th-century poem “The Arcadia”, Head Over Heels artfully blends the past with contemporary flair. Playwright Jeff Whitty's book and James Magruder adaptation seamlessly fuse Elizabethan prose with the infectious ‘80s pop-rock melodies of The Go-Go’s. The outcome? A dynamic jukebox musical that entertains while dismantling the rigidity of patriarchal norms, making room for female independence and an LGBTQ+ embracing universe.

Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Zach is a Party Where Everyone is Welcome
The cast and band of Head Over Heels at Zach
PC: Suzanne Cordeiro

Set in the realm of Arcadia, a land thriving under the pulsating rhythm of “The Beat'' (cue the invigorating opener, “We Got The Beat”), the narrative follows a royal family in dire need of a cultural makeover. 

Princess Pamela, a self-absorbed and spoiled young woman, staunchly resists any conventional marriage proposals. On the other hand, the unassuming Princess Philoclea finds herself enamored by the lovesick shepherd boy Musidorus. Queen Gynecia supports her daughter’s romantic pursuit, standing in stark contrast to the antiquated views of King Basilius, who clings to outdated norms that heavily favor CIS white males (sound familiar?).

Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Zach is a Party Where Everyone is Welcome
Stephanie Jones (Pamela) and the cast of Head Over Heels at Zach
PC: Suzanne Cordeiro

The story quickens when Pythio, the Oracle of Delphy, summons King Basilius to Greece, presenting him with four apocalyptic prophecies that could shatter Arcadia's beat and, consequently, the world. Among these portents is the prediction of a new ruler for Arcadia, prompting Basilius into swift action. Rather than sharing this revelation with his spouse Gynecia, the King takes his family and court on a journey to safeguard Arcadia's beat and covertly eliminate the potential usurper to the throne. The caravan’s motley crew includes the perpetually anxious viceroy Dametas and his daughter Mopsa, Pamela’s handmaiden. To win back Philoclea’s affection, Musidorus disguises himself as a female Amazon warrior, and joins the group of travelers, sparking unintended infatuation from both the queen and king, ultimately igniting a comedic rollercoaster.

Through trials and tribulations, the royal entourage casts aside antiquated dogmas, embracing an ethos of female independence, gender inclusivity, and acceptance. At the journey’s end, they come to realize that their expedition has led them full circle, back to an Arcadia that mirrors the metamorphosis each character has undergone. 

Jill C. Homes astounds as Queen Gynecia, gracing the stage with resplendent vocals and regal charisma. Ryan Everett Wood embodies a King Basilius brimming with hyper-masculine exuberance, yet charming enough to merit a place in Arcadia’s reimagined and equitable landscape. Stephanie Jones, taking on the role of Princess Pamela, sparks abundant laughter; even though she may not fully embody the physicality that defined the character on Broadway, her remarkable singing and comedic timing more than make up for it. The radiant Mariel Ardilla, as Princess Philoclea, commands attention with her enchanting persona and multifaceted talents. Her chemistry with Colin Trudell (Musidorus) forges a love story that tugs at the heartstrings. Cecil Washington Jr. delivers an ethereal portrayal as the gender-fluid Pythio adding both mystique and movement to the character. Tyler Jones stands out as Dametas, his performance a riot of hilarity; and Hannah Lauren Wilson truly shines as Mopsa, charming audiences with her magnetic persona and captivating performance.

In the role of Musidorus and camouflaged as a female Amazon Warrior, Colin Trudell steals the spotlight with impeccable physical comedy, evolving from a masculine suitor to a feminine seductress in a sidesplitting pantomime that epitomizes an unexpected sexual awakening—least expected by the shepherd himself. Trudell's diverse talents mark him as a promising up-and-coming actor to keep an eye on. Undoubtedly, he made his parents proud on opening night. 

Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Zach is a Party Where Everyone is Welcome
Mariel Ardilla (Philoclea) and Colin Trudell (Musidorus), Head Over Heels at Zach
PC: Suzanne Cordeiro

Under the direction of Dave Steakley, Zach Theatre’s rendition of Head Over Heels dazzles as an infectious celebration of musical theater. The vibrant set design by Michelle Ney brings the director’s distinctive vision to life, evoking images of beachside summers, Lady Bird Lake’s water skiing, and the lively colors and styles of the ‘80s. Though initially distracting and puzzling, the set's incorporation of inflatable flamingos, beach balls, and floaties gradually won me over as the show unfolded. 

The timeless hits of The Go-Go's, brought to life by the cast and an all-female on-stage band led by Band Director and bassist Kathy Valentine (yes, one of the founding members of The Go-Go’s!), seamlessly blend into the storyline. Tracks like “We Got the Beat,” “Mad About You,” “Our Lips are Sealed,” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth” weave themselves naturally into the narrative. A particular highlight for me was when Kathy Valentine and Eve Monsees (the guitarist) stepped forward, rocking to the beat of The Go-Go’s and facilitating smooth scene transitions.

While the plot may border on the absurd and the juxtaposition of Elizabethan prose and '80s pop-rock may seem puzzling, Head Over Heels adeptly merges humor, romance, and social commentary. By imbuing the narrative with themes of transformation and acceptance, the musical delivers a resonant message of optimism and solidarity. The audience bears witness to a triumphant journey that dismantles archaic constructs, urging an embrace of an all-encompassing, equitable, and compassionate world.

Head Over Heels

Direction by Dave Steakley

Music Direction by Allen Robertson

Band Direction by Kathy Valentine

Songs by The Go-Go's


The Topfer at ZACH

202 South Lamar

Austin, TX  78704

Now showing through September 10th, 2023

Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sundays at 2:30pm

Special Events:

Mix 94.7 & Majic 95.5 Night: August 18, 2023

ASL / Open-Caption: Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Duration: 2 hrs and 15 minutes with one intermission

Age Recommendation: 12 and up (for language, adult situations, and sexual innuendo)


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