BWW Review: HEAD OVER HEELS at Monumental Theatre Company
Calling all lovers of Elizabethan language and music from the all-female 80s sensation, The Go-Go's! Yes, there really is a musical that features both, and it's right here in Washington D.C. playing at Monumental theatre company from March 5-23. Head over Heels is a jukebox musical adaptation of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, a 16th century prose romance written by English poet, Sir Philip Sidney. This musical comedy uses both music and lyrics from the iconic female band The Go-Go's and very much resembles a Shakespearean comedy. The plot centers around a forbidden romance between Princess Philoclea (Lauren Farnell) and Musidorus (John Sygar) after King Basilius (Bryce Guerrire) decides Musidorus is not of the same ranking as Philoclea. Meanwhile Pythio (Garnet Williams), the new oracle of Arcadia, calls upon the royal family and warns that they have become too rigid with their ruling of Arcadia. He warns them of four prophecies that will end in King Basilius' usurping. In order to prevent this he hatches a plan to cheat the oracle by moving his family to Bohemia. Throughout this journey hilarity, hijinks, and even a sword fight ensue in an effort to save Arcadia's beat.
One of the more unique aspects of Monumental's Head Over Heels is the set and staging of the show. Having been aware of the original broadway cast's large-scale production with electrifying dance numbers and daunting set design, I was surprised to find myself walking into a blackbox theatre. The audience is seated all around in an arena style, with the front row being close enough to feel the wind created by some of the dancer's pirouettes. Although an unlikely approach for such a typical grandiose show: the intimacy was extremely engaging and refreshing. It was clear that audience members were enthralled in the high energy dancing and singing happening at their feet. The set design was fairly minimal but left wanting for nothing as the lighting, use of fog machines, and disco balls created everything the show needed in terms of setting and atmosphere.
Another stand out aspect of the production would be the beautiful costume designs of Jenn Pinkos. Each costume piece not only served the actor's characters but also gave a pop of color and 80s go-go feel to the Elizabethan style dialogue and setting.
There are so many reasons to run to this show: a few of them being the impressive work with the elevated Elizabethan language, the high-energy choreography, and the cast's brilliant comedic timing. The language of Head Over Heels could clearly be considered challenging not only for the cast but for the audience's understanding of the plot. However, I found that under the brilliant direction of Jimmy Mavrikes every aspect of the story was emphasized and communicated clearly.. Hilarious comedic timing from the cast really propelled the show forward and kept everyone fully engaged for the next laugh-out-loud line, especially during any scene in which Pamela (Rachel Barlaam) and Musidorus (Sygar) exchanged classic Bard-like quips (their delivery left the audience howling).
The vigorous choreography executed seamlessly by the cast was fantastic. This dance intensive show was simply dazzling to watch as almost every song was accompanied by some level of movement from the ensemble (Morgan Kelleher, Savina Barini, Cam Shegogue, Ricardo Blagrove). Ahmad Maaty's choreography was full out, fun, and clearly made everyone feel the beat of Arcadia!
Standout performances from the cast included ensemble member Morgan Kelleher. Kelleher was always delivering a full performance in whatever role she was playing at the moment. From her high intensity dancing to her hilariously individualistic reactions, she continuously managed to catch my eye. I always looked forward to seeing her detailed portrayals whenever the ensemble would come out and dance. Another standout performance was the duet between Mopsa (Adelina Mitchell) and Pamela (Barlaam), their soaring voices and intense energy in Rainy Day were sizzling as the scorned lovers went toe to toe in an epic riff off leaving the audience catching their breath.
The content and message of the show is highly relevant to the issues of today yet its delivery of such messages is refreshingly uplifting. It is fun, colorful, and accepting of all walks of life. One of the most important themes I took away from the show is to never become too rigid in the way you live your life: continually assess tradition and accept necessary change. In the context of the show this applied to gender norms, challenging the "traditional" roles of marriage and relationships, as well the constructed ideas of gender and gender conformity.
This show is a colorful, explosive, whirlwind that is not to be missed! The relevant messages of the show combined with upbeat dancing, singing, and comedy make this show hard to forget.HEAD OVER HEELS runs at Monumental Theatre Company from March 5-23 , tickets can be purchased at https://www.monumentaltheatre.org