Pasadena Playhouse rolled out the red carpet last Sunday for the Premier of the vibrant Head Over Heels, an Elizabethen play adapted with the music of The Go-Go’s.
The play was originally written in the 16th century by Sir Philip Sidney and adapted into a musical with the pop magic music of the Go Go’s in 2018. It managed to successfully take new wave and bring it into a new age, with all sorts of gleeful nostalgia. Fluid gender identity and sexuality that normally don’t get to take center stage, played out seamlessly with humor and a touch of tenderness. Although the story jumps from plot to plot between characters, the actors make sure you don’t miss a beat.
The seats were removed in the stalls to elicit the feeling of a club atmosphere. Theatergoers have the option to stand on the dance floor in the middle of the action and are encouraged to dance and move about the floor. With tinsel hanging and colorful spotlights, that added that subtle touch of glamour which also helped relay a mystical experience.
The story is moved along the most by the love established between Musidorus, played by George Salazar and Princess Philoclea played by Shanice Williams. Salazar charms slowly throughout, as Musidorous morphs between a shepherd boy and an Amazonian warrior. Philoclea feels as much of an underdog as her lover. She is often discarded and dismissed, Williams plays her so well that you forget that her heartbreak isn’t your own.
In the beginning the Musidorus and Philoclea listen to each other’s heartbeat, beguiling them into the spell of love’s own rhythm, which they follow throughout. Their love is not permitted by the king due to Musidorus’ social standing and the quest to win her entangles all the characters in a massive love bomb of self discovery.
Philoclea is the younger princess and is often compared to her sister’s beauty, yet she finds true love first. Within Philoclea’s journey of empowerment, a domino effect happens, which lights the fire for Mopsa, played by Emily Skeggs and Princess Pamela played by Tiffany Mann. Mopsa is Pamela’s lady in waiting and is always by her side. She knows the best and worst of the princess and comes to find that they love her for who she is regardless of her hardheadedness. Although this realization came with complications, ultimately sending Mopsa on a vacation to “lesbos” where they seemingly can’t escape the thought of their love for Pamela.
All hail the Queen, you do not have to be a fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to appreciate the ferocity of Alaska 5000. I proudly bow down to Alaska’s rendition of Queen Gynecia with her unmistakable glamour and self-assurance on the stage. She was able to induce laughter from the crowd with just a turn of her head, change of vocal inflection and my favorite, the bearing of her shoulder.
Lea Delaria’s portrayal of King Basilius was the perfect mix of power driven mania and comedy. Basilius is not necessarily a good king or man and Delaria was able to round out the character’s rough edges with humor, which helped connect the unfortunate king to the audience. I have not seen the original adaptation but was pleasantly surprised when Delaria pulled from her jazz roots and laid it down in a killer scat. Her wordless improvisation had the right amount of hard syllables and melodic spontaneity.
Although all of the performers’ vocals were incredible, Mann brought the house down with her version of “How Much More.” Can someone get this princess on her pedestal asap? If encores were permitted Mann needs to get back up on that podium. She raged on with punk rock hair flips, perfectly embodying the angst of an unrequited love.
Every so often the stage was blessed with the musings of The Oracle played by Freddie and The Player who was played by Yurel Echezarreta. Their rendition of “Heaven is a Place on Earth” was enchantingly supernatural. The Oracle, dressed in radical clubwear, felt like a new age mystic. Echezarreta often breezed through the crowd with elegance and charisma.
The show was meant to bring joy and new beginnings for a post pandemic world and it definitely lived up to that. It is an unconventional musical that takes the old world of Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia” into a new world with more inclusion and merriment. If you want to have fun, I highly recommend that you pay homage to the royalty in this production of “Head Over Heels” but if you are into the stuffy theater of yesteryear, stay home.
“Head Over Heels” will be playing at the Pasadena Playhouse from now until Dec 12. Theatergoers are required to bring proof of vaccination and must wear a mask. You can order your tickets online through the Pasadena Playhouse website.
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