Review Roundup : HEAD OVER HEELS at Kokandy Productions; What Did The Critics Think?
Making its Chicago debut just six months after concluding its Broadway run, Kokandy Production's HEAD OVER HEELS is now open. HEAD OVER HEELS is co-directed by Kokandy's new Producing Artistic Director Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson, with music direction by Kyra Leigh and choreography by Breon Arzell. HEAD OVER HEELS plays July 1 - August 25, 2019 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.
The cast includes Bridget Adams-King, Jeremiah Alsop, Emily Barnash, Frankie Leo Bennett, Caitlyn Cerza, Caitlin Dobbins, Britain Gebhardt, Connor Giles, Parker Guidry, Kaimana Neil, Liz Norton, Deanalis Resto, Shane Roberie, Roy Samra, Tiffany T. Taylor and Marco Tzunux. Swings: Courtney Dane Mize and Patrick O'Keefe.
A hilarious, exuberant celebration of love, HEAD OVER HEELS follows the escapades of a royal family on an outrageous journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction - only to discover the key to their realm's survival lies within each of their own hearts.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Alex Huntsberger, Chicago Sun-Times: "Head Over Heels" is an odd beast, but it's also a thrillingly queer one. The emotional beat that strikes the hardest revolves around a simple swapping of pronouns in one oft-repeated refrain. And when the show pokes fun at itself via Musidorus stumbling across a deceased theater troupe, reportedly starved "for lack of a serious message," it does itself a slight disservice. Its messages are quite serious, actually. It's just that they're being presented in an unserious manner. The show is simultaneously a goofy jukebox musical and an earnest treatise on evolving gender norms. It is both, and it's not quite either. How fluid indeed.
Misha Davenport, BroadwayWorld: Superbly directed by Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson, the show features all the usual tropes typical of Elizabethan comedies. A quest that leads the cast into a forest where everything soon goes astray? Check. Gender-bending disguises and mistaken identities? Check and check. On the surface, it is a light-hearted romp, but there's more going on here. In a nutshell, Elizabethan comedy meets modern constructs of gender fluidity in Kokandy's top-notch production of HEAD OVER HEELS.
Kerry Reid, Chicago Tribune: What Whitty and Magruder's book makes clear is that gender fluidity is not some "Vision of Nowness." It's always been there. It's just that, in recent centuries anyway, we've been too uptight and constrained by the dictates of the binary to embrace it. Refreshingly, the show also makes a strong case for hot-and-heavy passion as something people decades past the bloom of youth enjoy, too. In one of the funniest (and sexiest) interludes, Gynecia and Basilius (who have both fallen for Musidorus themselves, for different reasons) believe they're cheating on their spouse with the Amazon, when they're actually cheating with themselves. It's complicated - but it also provides the occasion for a killer take on Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." The directors have fun with the height differences between Norton's statuesque queen and the shorter Bennett, but never in a way that suggests that it's an outlandish attraction - or that older people having sex can only be met with sniggering disbelief. Indeed, this is a show that tears down tired binaries of age and body type with almost as much relish as it does gender stereotypes.
Lawrence Bommer, Stage and Cinema: Fresh from its Broadway run and now in a rampaging staging by Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson for Kokandy Productions, this 140-minute theatrical treat repurposes chartbusters like "We Got the Beat" and the title song, their destiny a daffy reworking of an Elizabethan fantasy allegory. Happily, the energy in this Chicago premiere never drops long enough to expose its manic silliness, while the serious stuff streams from songs suddenly enhanced by a new context.
Colin Douglas, Chicago Theater and Arts: But the true breakout star of this production is Parker Guidry in the ethereal role of Pythio. A non-binary actor [themself], Guidry absolutely glories in making the most of this character. Endowed with a fine singing voice, great dance ability and a talent for bringing hilarity to the most subtle situations, Guidry is a luminous performer who, as shown by this performance, can do just about anything. With its poetic dialogue, outlandish, cross-dressing characters, mistaken identities and unrequited love, this comic confectionary has a great deal in common with Shakespeare's finest works. But wait: there's more! There's ribald wordplay and raunchy sight gags, flowing wigs and glittering finery, flashing swords and interludes of much-loved retro music and dance that make this lighthearted musical-with-a-message the ideal warm weather wingding.
Alan Bresloff, Around The Town Chicago: Directed by Derek Van Barham & Elizabeth Swanson on a set designed by Chris Roton, I found places where I lost where they were and due to the length of the play, that was probably the reason. The fight choreography by Kate Booth was clever and I think that the directors handled the actual choreography which became a bit repetitive. Uriel Gomez did the costumes which were for the most part okay, but not representing what I would call Grecian garb. The other tech aspects worked well, including sound (Michael J. Patrick) and lighting (G. "Max" Maxin IV), We had no problem hearing every spoken word as well as the music ( one of the highlights of the evening).