Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Berkeley Playhouse

Now through June 30th

By: May. 29, 2024
Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Berkeley Playhouse
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HEAD OVER HEELS finds its beat and makes its way into your heart. Melding classic Go-Go tunes with ancient mythology, the show makes the old new and the new timeless. From feathers and corsets to sheep and snakes, HEAD OVER HEELS is more than a celebration of diversity, it is a celebration of life.  Berkeley Playhouse’s production is all about having fun.

HEAD OVER HEELS takes us to the imaginary land of Arcadia where the people, reluctant to embrace change, are in jeopardy of losing the “beat” of their city. Pythio, an Oracle, warns them of things to come. The king, Basilius, leads his family on a journey to seek out the threats to their land, but misses the troubles brewing in his own household. He is frustrated by his daughter Pamela who has refused every suitor seeking her hand, and is unmoved by the admission of love by Musidorous, a shepherd, to his other daughter, Philoclea. He has also become estranged from his own wife, Gynecia. Mopsa, the daughter of the Steward, leaves the family when Pamela fails to recognize their connection. Musidorus receives a message from Pythio and sets out on a mission to secure his love, Philoclea. He enters their company disguised as an Amazon, Cleophila. His presence sends the entire royal family on a path to self-discovery.

The most notable thing about the cast is how much fun they appeared to be having, not just in their roles, but collectively as a company. Their camaraderie was apparent and made their connections genuine. Jessica Coker as Gynecia and SC Scarpelli as Basilius lead the pack with their ability to provide a foundation to the story. Coker also provided a layer of comedy to Gynecia, especially when breaking the fourth wall. Jacqueline Dennis as Philoclea was the epitome of gentleness, kindness and humility. Her voice mirrored the purity of her character. Jas Cook as Pamela was all that and a bag of chips with no apologies. Melinda Campero’s portrayal of Mopsa was filled with intentionality so that Mopsa was not just a cog in the storyline, but a complete person in their own right. Milo Boland as Musidorous/CleoPhila was charming and heartfelt. But it was B Noel Thomas as Pythio that brought down the house every time she stepped on stage. From her magical hand manipulations to her powerful pipes, she made every second count. The ensemble provided both great energy as a group and some thoughtful individuality. Nico Joachico and Miles Meckling were especially noteworthy in their ability to add to the story, the humor, and give whatever the moment needed.

The artistic team of HEAD OVER HEELS presented a well-thought, cohesive show that was high on impact points and embraced the humor of the show. The lighting design by Sophia Craven and Nic Candito caught my attention almost instantly. The use of ombre color in the background set the mood and transitioned the set from day to night. The costume design of Y Sharon Peng used an eclectic style that worked perfectly with the diversity message of the show while also finding a cohesive look to make it all work together. The music direction by Michael Patrick Wiles showcased some fabulous voices and produced some beautiful blends in the duet and trio work. The choreography by Kevin Gruwell is without a doubt the element that took the show to the next level. He pushed the cast to the edge with some tricky bits but also used sharp, simple movements to pack a punch. His ability to create shapes and tableaus made the show so interesting to watch. The scenic design of Tricia Tecson is clever and multifunctional. Her work creating an adaptable centerpiece allowed the show to not get stuck in clunky transitions. Director Mel Martinez’s vision of humor and heart rings true throughout the show. The scenes transition with an easy flow and are blocked to use the space in its entirety.

This was my first visit to the Julia Morgan Theatre and first time seeing a production of Berkeley Playhouse. What is immediately evident is that the love of theater and love of community runs through everything and everyone within its purview. The production embraces the kitsch of the show and leans into the humor. It is a celebration of love, of diversity, of the love of diversity and the diversity of love. HEAD OVER HEELS offers a few hours relief from the troubles of our world and an immersion into the joy of theater.


 




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