Julie Evans & Josh O’Brien in Head Over Heels. Photo: Pandora

Head Over Heels

Music by The Go-Go’s
Based on The Arcadia by Sir Phillip Sidney
Conceived and original book by Jeff Whitty
Adapted by James Magruder
Directed by Michael Drury

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

When The Go-Go’s first appeared in 1981, I was too much of a music snob to pay attention to a group composed of “cute and bouncy” young women, however much they dominated MTV. I don’t mean to be dismissive when I say “cute and bouncy” either because that is exactly how a coworker who was a rabid fan described the group in 1984.

All of which it is to say that I didn’t know what to expect walking into Pandora Productions’ Head Over Heels. A modern-day romantic fable based on a play by Sir Phillip Sidney, the story is a neo-Shakespearean romp in which a Royal family mixes with commoners and the supernatural. There is even the plot device of a cross-gender masquerade that opens the door to a good deal of surprisingly LGBTQA+ sexual attraction that, unlike in Shakespeare, is fully embraced instead of being swept under the rug in an overly tidy denouement.

Key to the turnaround is the character of Pythio, an Oracle conceived as a fabulous drag queen and played with scene-stealing bravado by Philip Clemons. Clothed in a costume of some outrageousness, Clemons wisely underplays the dialogue and emits a sly reading of the dialogue and a strong singing voice, knowing he commands the stage with each entrance. 

Josh O’Brien is the earnest King of Arcadia with a touch of corruption resulting from the long-held assumption of patriarchy, and Julie Evans his sleek and knowing Queen. Their two daughters lie at the crux of the romantic entanglements. The eldest is played by Jessica Adamson with a surplus of an old-school, hour-glass figure glamour that epitomizes a certain camp aesthetic, while Olivia Duff as the youngest is a perfect innocent ingenue. 

Myranda Thomas is a lady-in-waiting whose father, played by Jason Cooper, is the King’s top aide, and Michael Detmer is a poor, humble, shepherd with is in love with the younger sister.

The use of the songs is smart enough that the show doesn’t seem like a jukebox musical, but the ensemble players are distinctly 1980s in their dress, a reminder of the period that should work against the plot and setting but doesn’t. I think it’s because Head  Over Heels refuses to take itself seriously, emphasizing the joy of same-sex relationships and gender identity over the controversies that cause headlines and pain.

Director Michael Drury has gathered a strong cast that mostly exhibits strong voices. Adamson and Thomas share a particularly fine duet in “Here You Are”, in which their voices soar in powerful harmony, and Evans, Duff, and Detmer also are in good voice.

They also move pretty well. Choreographers Zachary Boone and Paul McElroy master the art of designing a manageable yet still impressive series of numbers to exploit the range of skill levels, and the ensemble carries it off with energy. Local companies almost never have the luxury of sufficient rehearsal time for choreography but the ensemble members here shine in the production numbers.

The band is good but not yet as tight as I’m sure they would like to be given they are led by no less than John Austin Clark on keyboard. Tommy Cook, Dave Neill, Benji Simmons, and Will Wilder were the other players.

Robbie Steiner’s set was primarily a series of clever pieces on wheels or hinges, with some nice use of large stretches of fabric to suggest location changes and natural elements, and Donna Lawrence-Downs’ costumes are evenly divided between the painfully 1980s (leopard print, spandex. Lycra, leggings), gender-neutral formality, and the utter fantasy of Pythio, each landing with equal effect.

Head Over Heels may not turn you into a Go-Go’s fan, but it seeks to accomplish something more, so the songs are much more a means to an end. If you buy into the silliness and self-awareness, you may actually leave the theatre enlightened without even quite knowing how.

Featuring Jessica Adamson, Olivia Allen, Beckah Buckman, Philip Clemons, Jason Cooper, Michael Detmer, Olivia Duff, Julie Evans, William Nichols, Josh O’Brien, Sarah Reesor, Remy Sisk, Myranda Thomas, Celeste Vonderschmidt, Clark Worden   

Head Over Heels

March 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 & 19 @ 7:30 pm
March 6 & 13 @ 5:30 pm
March 20 @ 2:00 pm

Pandora Productions
The Henry Clay Theater
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.