BWW Review: ArtsWest's HEAD OVER HEELS Certainly 'Got the Beat'!
Back in 2018, a little show came along to Broadway called "Head Over Heels". All I knew was that it was the story of Sir Philip Sydney's "Arcadia" with the songs of the 80's pop group, The Go-Go's. OK, another jukebox musical, we'll see. Then I went to NY and it didn't quite make the list of shows I was seeing. But after I found out more about it, like it was touting having the first trans woman originating a principal role on Broadway. Cool. Maybe I'll see it next time. And then it closed. Well, now ArtsWest has picked it up for its Seattle Premiere and I find that the show itself also speaks to homosexuality and gender identities beyond the binary, but not in a documentary or preachy way. Plus, it's a ton of fun. All of which makes me kick myself for not seeing it when I had the chance. But it's here now and ArtsWest nails it!
The tale follows the residents of Arcadia. A town ruled over by King Basilius and Queen Gynecia (Louis Hobson and Ann Cornelius) and who's enjoyed years of prosperity thanks to a force in the land known as "The Beat". (You see where we're fitting the Go-Go's in here?) The eldest daughter of the King and Queen, the self-proclaimed beauty Pamela (Alex Sturtevant) must find a suitor but none seem worthy. Meanwhile the younger daughter Philoclea (Rheanna Atendido) loves the shepherd boy Musidorus (Eric Dobson) but he is not "worthy" of her. A new oracle Pythio (Mila Jam) comes to town and they (yes, Pythio uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they") have a new prophecy for the town involving the lives and loves of the King and his family that will end with a new King taking charge, lest they lose "The Beat" forever. So, the King invents a lie or fifteen and takes his family, along with his advisor Dametus (Joseph Tancioco) and Dametus' daughter Mopsa (Kataka Corn) and the rest of his subjects, into the woods to try and change the outcome.
Now, if the show weren't already inclusive enough, so is the cast which may lead to some pronoun trouble. You see Pythia is non-binary and uses "they/them" pronouns but the fabulous Mila Jam is a trans woman and uses "she/her". And Mopsa is a woman who would go with a "she/her" pronoun but played by Kataka Corn who uses "they/them" pronouns. So, I'll try to keep it straight, but it all depends on if I'm talking about the performer or the character. Try to keep up.
First let me say about the show, that it's a delight. Just the right amount of the original Sydney "Arcadia" tale and the updated humor and language from authors Jeff Whitty and James Magruder plus the music of The Go-Go's so, try not to have fun. But beyond the show itself, director Mathew Wright has kept the pace of it at a perfect level, keeping any dead zones or lulls in the action completely at bay. The band as Music Directed by R.J. Tancioco is top notch and then there's the choreography. Unlike a recent show I wrote about, the choreography here, by UJ Mangune, manages an energy and sharpness that not only entertains but stays within the story and helps move it along. Plus, managed to keep all those people moving on that small stage with no one getting lost or obscured. Certainly one of my favorite feats of Choreography for the year.
And this cast. Oh, this cast! First and foremost, I need to mention the ensemble (Will Chadek, Maddi Chancey, Yena Han, Maleah Haverly, Drew O'Donnell, Adrian Renon, Malcolm "MJ" Smith, Spencer Stromberg, Quinn Tierney Vaira, and Brandon Weglin). There are leads in a show and there are ensemble. And then there are ensemble who barely ever leave stage and are working harder than the leads and that's the case here. They not only kept the "Beat" with the energy and tone of the show but kept it quite alive with their near perfect dance moves. Truly a blast to watch! And beyond this outstanding ensemble we had our principals. Jam kept entering the stage and completely owning it each time she magically appeared. Hobson and Cornelius are delightful together and the divalicious Cornelius tore the roof off the place several times. Tancioco is hysterical as the advisor trying to keep everyone happy. Corn has enough attitude or 10 ladies in waiting but they never took it over the top. They managed a very subtle and light way to repeatedly smack down her mistress. Atendido and Dobson are adorable together with oodles of chemistry. And Dobson's transformation and facial expressions are worth the price of admission. But it was Sturtevant who was killing me all night long. Killer pipes, and she knows how to belt it, but her comedic timing is flawless. I couldn't stop giggling.
This is simply a fantastic update of a very old story for today's audiences and just plain fun, no matter what pronouns you use. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ArtsWest's production of "Head Over Heels" a "Heaven is a place at ArtsWest" YAY+. I'm truly mad about them and they've left a skidmark on my heart.
"Head Over Heels" performs at ArtsWest through December 29th. For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at www.artswest.org.