BWW Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Head Over Heels
Based on The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney
Conceived and Original Book by Jeff Whitty
Adapted by James Magruder
Songs by the Go-Go's
Directed by Ed Decker
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Two tried and true genres, the jukebox musical and Elizabethan romantic comedy gleefully collide in Head Over Heels, an eye-popping, toe-tapping creation currently residing at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Jeff Whitty's ("Avenue Q") book, loosely based on Sir Philip Sidney's 16th century prose poem "The Arcadia," merges with the back catalog of 1980's all-girl band the Go-Go's in a delicious romp that skillfully combines Shakespearean iambic pentameter, pop-rock lyrics and plenty of bawdy comedy.
Taking a cue from 2015's Broadway hit Something Rotten, the story is a contemporized romantic comedy with plenty of sex-positive gags, mistaken identities and silly gender bending. While the selling point of this show seems to be the Go-Go's songs, hits like "We Got the Beat," "Mad About You," and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", skillfully interwoven within the production, it's the witty script that elevates this juke-box musical.
Whitty's simplified Sidney's story, but still you may need a score card to keep track of the ever-escalating shenanigans. But those familiar with Shakespeare won't think twice, and novice's have plenty of pizzazz, sparkle and humor to be captivated. By necessity, Decker must scale down the huge, bold production that opened in SF back in 2018 before its Broadway run. He utilizes projections by Lighting Designer Chris Lundahl to enhance and expand the exposition and small stage confines. The ensemble is tasked with interpreting the vocals of the Go-Go's big hits as well as executing Rick Wallace's choreography.
As heads of the royal family of Arcadia, William Giammona (Basilius) and Stephanie Temple (Gynecia) are assuredly imperious as they try to ward off an oracle's prophesized doom (played with high camp by Rotimi Agbabiaka). Their older daughter Pamela is much suited but never taken, played with unsubstantiated arrogance by Ella Ruth Francis. Her younger sister Philoclea (Kimberly Cohan), who Pamela considers 'plain', will become the romantic heroine of the play. Her suitor is the lowly shepherd Musidoris (Scott Scholes), who along with Pamela are the comic foils of the piece. Danya El-Kurd plays Mopsa, daughter of the King's Viceroy Dametas (local fave David Bicha).
As the family flees Arcadia for safety in Bohemia, the zany plotlines kicks in full force: Basilius and his Queen will commit adultery with each other (you gotta see it), Musidoris finds his inner feminine as a cross dressing Amazon hero who everyone pursues, Pamela falls for Mopsa and of course doom (the loss of 'the beat') is averted. Head Over Heels is a delight; the music generally fits into the narrative, Whitty's script (assisted by James Magruder's adaptation) sparkles with wit and humor, and the entire look is fantastic. San Francisco is an excellent choice for this show given our liberal proclivities and sexual openness. Oh yeah, and there's the collective theme of being our best selves to avoid disastrous climate change to appeal to the social consciousness.
Head Over Heels continues through January 12, 2020 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at www.nctcsf.org or at the box office at 415-861-8972.
Photos by Lois Tema.