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BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts


Talking with the Director and Choreographer of this exciting musical coming to Orlando June 10 - 13th

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts What happens when you take a 16th-century prose romance and turn it into a musical with a score by the most successful all-female rock band in history, The Go Go's? You get HEAD OVER HEELS, a musical that took Broadway by storm in 2018 and that will have its Central Florida premiere June 10 - 13th by Encore! Performing Arts at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Orlando. Directing this production is Encore's Creative Director, Michael Rodgers, and Choreographing the production is Adonus Mabry. I had the pleasure of sitting down with both Michael and Adonus to talk about the show, what it's like creating a musical during a pandemic, and what audiences can expect from this exciting and new theatrical experience.

BWW: To start, tell me a little bit about each of your backgrounds.BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts

Michael Rodgers: I was a parade performer at Disney for a long time and doing musical theater. I was a theater major in college and started making my way towards directing as I started realizing I like to do everything, a little bit, and directing was that one thing that let me be the jack of all trades successfully. So, that's where I've of settled for the past few years, and that's where I am now. I've been directing for quite a while and have been almost exclusively doing things with Encore! for the past eight or nine years.

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts Adonus Mabry: I'm originally from Tupelo, Mississippi and started dancing in college. They had a show choir there and I just thought was the coolest thing. I grew up playing sports and my friend taught me how to dance and I kind of started there. I went on a trip to Disney World and saw the Festival of the Lion King and was inspired by that. I saw those dancers and knew that's what I wanted to do so, instead of pharmacy school, which was going to be my next step, I was like "Mom, I'm moving to Orlando!" And so I moved here and I did most of my training here - contemporary dance and also ballroom at Arthur Murray.

Tell us about HEAD OVER HEELS. What's the show about?BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts

MR: It is an Elizabethan story that has been updated and put to the music of the Go Go's so it maintains that Elizabethan presentation style with this contemporary sensibility. So you're dealing with 80s punk and iambic pentameter at the same time. Which is actually really fun to do. It is essentially a jukebox musical but one that is more organic. There's a lot of disparate things coming together that, in theory, shouldn't mash up well but somehow really does. The source material was written about a decade or two before Shakespeare's time and you can feel the similarity to shows like A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and TWELFTH NIGHT. The show manages to balance some really great themes and messages without being too heavy-handed. As for the plot, it's a pastoral romance which means you have wealthy people running around in the woods, mistaken identities, and shepherds. It's about this utopian kingdom that receives a dire prophecy from an oracle and basically goes on a colossal road trip to try and avoid calamity and in the process, makes it all happen.

Were you familiar with the show before this production?

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts M: I saw the show on Broadway and was already obsessed with it. By the time I got to intermission, I already was making plans in my head over how to do it one day. Unfortunately, the show didn't last too terribly long on Broadway but it meant the rights became available for regional theatres to do it. As far as I know, we're one of the first in the area to do so. I really want to see this story continue to live on and am excited we get to bring it to the area.

A: I I was not.

M: I dragged him in.

A: I had heard from a couple of friends about the show, but I never listened to it and by the time I got there it had closed on Broadway.

You open on June 10th - how have rehearsals been going?

M: It's been going great. The challenge, when you're dealing with a volunteer-based show, is juggling schedules and right now we also have constantly changing protocols to deal with. The upside of that is that they are relaxing more and more, but it's still hard to play by the rules when they keep changing.

How has the pandemic impact rehearsals, planning, and ultimately the performance?

M: It was a lot harder at the beginning because we could only put so many people in aBWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts rehearsal room at once and keep everybody spread out so we had to rehearse things separately. As more and more of the cast vaccinations have kicked in and physical distancing is reduced it's gotten a little bit easier. Our principals are all fully vaccinated now so they will be able to perform unmasked. We haven't even unmasked yet in rehearsals so it is going to be a real exciting process when they all finally get to remove them and we all realize what people actually look like! As for the audience we're keeping everyone in masks since we don't know if everyone's vaccinated and just to keep everybody safe. Our goal is to give the best show possible but maintain the best safety protocols that we can.

Adonus, what about from your perspective?

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts AM: Fortunately, I was able to return to the stage at the end of summer. I was Associate Choreographer at Osceola Arts for IN THE HEIGHTS and so that was my first test trying to choreograph numbers, especially partner-specific numbers with restrictions. I was like "How do I wrap my head around partner dancing without contact"? So it was an interesting journey. That kind of gave me a little bit more confidence coming to HEAD OVER HEELS. But aside from that I just feel like it's also an opportunity to grow and think outside the box and create different pictures or moments without those go to moves.

Tell me a little bit about ENCORE! Performing Arts.

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts MR: We started as an organization for Walt Disney World cast members to have additional creative and performance outlets and in the process making donations to Central Florida charities. I don't remember the exact number, but I believe over the last 20 years we've donated, I want to say, over $300K. At this point we've benefited a lot of arts organizations, but a variety of them. We like to theme the beneficiary based on the content of the show. So, for HEAD OVER HEELS, since there are a lot of LGBTQ+ themes throughout the show as well as diversity, body positivity and feminism we partnered with One Orlando Alliance to bring some awareness and additional funding to them. Over the years we've gotten bigger and moved around the city to different venues. We've performed at Dr. Phillips Center and now at Orlando Shakes. And we've we're no longer just Walt Disney World cast members we've expanded so now we're actually our own 501c3 non-profit.

HEAD OVER HEELS performs at the Orlando Shakes' Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Is this the first time Encore! has performed there? How does it compare to other venues?

MR: It's our first time and we're thrilled to be there. Some of the staging had to be reinterpreted from what's in the script because you present things differently when you have a proscenium stage vs. a thrust. We don't have fly space, so we get creative with some of the concepts for the different musical numbers which is fun to kind of put our own spin on things.

Tell me a little about the creative process for HEAD OVER HEELS. I am always very interested in hearing how a show like this one comes together.

MR: Our core creative team will start planning several months out. Considering, we are aBWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts nonprofit trying to donate to an organization, we have to be incredibly conscious of budgets, so a lot of times we will kind of design around our resources. It's amazing what Cliff [Price - Scenic Designer] can do with foam core! Our costume team and our whole creative team, really, are just incredible at making something simple look really extravagant. That's always our goal - to exceed people's expectations.

AM: Since there is this royal court feel, wanted to make it regal but hipper without being too out there. I work in my head, so anytime I get to a new number I listen to the music and I think "How does this make me feel, how do I want to move from this?" and I just kind of feel it from there, and then I think about other people and their bodies. I try not to just choreograph based on what I want to do, but I think about who I'm working with and how to make others look good.

Do you both have a favorite song/moment in the show so far?

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts MR: My favorite moment is always the most recent thing we've blocked or choreographed because there's so many moments that our principals get to shine in this show. Our ensemble is so talented - they're just going to sound so good. It's hard. It's like choosing between your children. I do love how this show kind of kicks down the door with the opening number. So, seeing that all come together on a stage is going to be incredible. I'm partial to certain numbers musically too. I love "Our Lips Are Sealed" because of how the arrangements are for the show.

AM: It is really tough. I also feel like all of them, but I would probably also say the open number. It's just so high energy and how we start. How Michael described it to me was that it needs to like being shot out of a cannon - just pure fun energy. I am really excited to see it come together with costumes and everything.

MR: It kind of like the "Rockin' Roller Coaster" - zero to 60 out of the gate.

Tell me about the cast. I imagine they have been thrilled to get back to performing live.

MR: They come from a variety of places in the city, with a lot of different performance backgrounds. We have a lot of theme park performers. We have a lot of diverse, talented people in this cast - a lot of triple threats. There's a lot of comedy plus the heightened language in HEAD OVER HEELS so the fact that they can handle these very high pop songs while speaking in iambic pentameter and memorizing all this choreography while wearing costumes - it's really impressive.

How would you describe your directing style? And how has it been for you directing this show?

MR: I like to say cast the right people and get out of their way. My job is to manipulate the audience's emotions, whether it be when to laugh, when to cry, who to feel for, making sure that they're focused at the right place at the right time. And that the actors can tell the story because to me that is at the center of everything - telling the story. Generally, in rehearsal, we will do a basic blocking of the scene, but I try and let them do their own thing to a point as well. I compare it to keeping a lot of tops spinning on the table.

Is there anything else you would like audiences to know about HEAD OVER HEELS?

MR: This one thing I should have mentioned earlier, it what's interesting about the show and itBWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts has made me rethink the casting process. I think in the theater we see ourselves as incredibly open-minded and inclusive, but we have a long way to go, particularly with how we deal with gender. I have had to constantly evaluate my pronouns, which is a healthy thing to have to look at. I think the arts community feels like we're on the forefront of that movement, but I think we all have room to grow and this show has helped me realize that and things I'll take on into future.

Overall, though, this show has such a big heart. It's just a great night out. Audiences are going to have so much fun with the cast because they're having a blast themselves. It's an incredibly inclusive story entertaining and endearing with so many laugh-out-loud moments and music that you know and love done in a new way.

BWW Interview: Michael Rodgers And Adonus Mabry of HEAD OVER HEELS at Encore! Performing Arts

HEAD OVER HEELS by Encore! Performing Arts runs in the Margeson Theater at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center at 812 E Rollins St Orlando, FL 32803 June 10th - 13th. Tickets are available at For information, please contact

All Photos by Encore! Performing Arts.

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