Get ready to go-go mad for Head Over Heels, the new Go-Go’s musical currently running a pre-Broadway engagement at San Francisco’s Curran Theater. This show is an enchanting romp through Elizabethan language and ‘80s girl-power anthems. That may seem like an odd combination, but it all works thanks to the show’s killer mix of a fabulous script, great acting and never taking itself too seriously.
The show tells an original story while utilizing the existing songs of all-girl rock band, The Go-Go’s. The show is in the spirit of other rock band musicals like Green Day’s American Idiot and ABBA’s Mama Mia! but also unique in that the main story is set in the Elizabethan era rather than our own.
Head Over Heels tells the story of a royal family and their court as they navigate love, loss and scandal, in order to preserve their kingdom from an oracle’s ominous prophesy. Loosely based on a 16th century prose work, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, the show follows many of the plot staples of Shakespeare’s comedies. The characters deal with mistaken identities, a meddling oracle and too many love triangles to count. Yet the show also feels distinctly modern, despite being largely written in iambic pentameter. The language never feels too laborious to understand, and besides, it is frequently broken up by the funky and upbeat score. Gender roles and binaries are openly flouted throughout the show and sexual orientations are elastic and numerous. Throughout, the show simultaneously embraces hallmarks of Elizabethan plays and turns them on their heads.
All of the actors are so great that it’s hard to pick out any one of them as better than the others. The leading romantic male role of Musidorus, however, is particularly given some very funny scenes that Andrew Durand plays to perfection. Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, played by Peppermint, will also be the first principal Broadway role originated by a trans actress. Additionally, to honor The Go-Go’s, a five-piece all-female band accompanies the show.
The production design too, is amazing. The costume design by Arrianne Philips is a fun mix of Elizabethan and ‘80s styles, where ruffled collars are paired with neon tights. Several of the supporting casts' outfits are gender-bent and amazingly it all works. The set design, by Julian Crouch, also takes its cue from the Elizabethan era as it is mostly flat panels that are gorgeously painted to create the various settings. But it’s the lighting design that sets my theater-geek heart aflutter.
I could honestly write an entire article just praising the lighting design. Created by multiple Tony-award winner Kevin Adams and projection designer Andrew Lazarow, the lighting changes with the show. During the more traditional moments of the musical, the lighting is beautiful, but not particularly eye-catching. Day fades into night in a way that adds to the show but doesn’t distract the audience from the story. Tree branches above the characters are dotted with blossoms that mature into fruit as the characters discover themselves. And then, when The Go-Go’s music begins, the lighting goes wild. Brightly colored lights highlight architectural details on the Roman facades of the set with pinpoint accuracy, changing to the rapid beat of the music. Then there’s also the awesome use of silhouettes during the song “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
All that stated, no show is perfect and there is one minor issue I feel the need to point out. At the very start of the show, the oracle goes through the four prophecies that drive the rest of the plot. They’re well written and delivered, but they went by a little quickly, making them hard to remember when they become very important later in the show. But honestly, just slowing down those few lines would solve the problem and most of the prophecies get repeated later on in the story anyway.
Head Over Heels is just plain fun. The script, the staging, the actors, the songs and their compositions all come together perfectly to a laugh-out loud musical that also touches your heart and makes you think without losing the show’s freewheeling spirit. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this show performing at the Tony’s next year. So why not catch it while it’s still affordable right here at the Curran?
Head Over Heels is currently playing at The Curran Theater (445 Geary Street, San Francisco) April 10 through May 6, 2018. The show runs about two-and-a-half hours with one intermission. Tickets range from $29-$175.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus