A Go-Go’s jukebox musical has to start with “We’ve Got the Beat” as an introduction to the sequined and bejeweled kingdom of Arcadia. “The Beat” is tradition. It keeps Arcadia happy, grooving, and prosperous. It is “divine.”
‘Head Over Heels’…reaffirms that it’s good to be gay and trans. It also has the Go-Go’s…smart and simple direction…sparkles.
Ultra masculine King Basilius (Brian Dauglash) and Gynecia (Hana Clarice) are king and queen of this happy kingdom. They have two daughters who both have a problem. There’s Philoclea (Kristen Stickley), the youngest princess, who is in love with Musidorus (Brett Klock), a shepherd below her station. Elder daughter Pamela (Allison Bradbury) is beautiful but besieged by suitors she can’t stand. Perhaps that’s because, as we learn through her poetry, those suitors lack the anatomical parts that rhyme with “bits” and “China.” Trouble ensues in earnest when King Basilius, accompanied by his servant Dametas (Nathan Zimmerman), is sent to attend a prophecy from the new and non-binary oracle, Pythio (Nicholas Miles).
- “Thy younger daughter will bring a liar to bed. He thou shall forbid, she he’ll then assume.”
- “Thou elder daughter will consent to wed. She’ll consummate her love but with no groom.”
- “Thou with thy wife, adultery shall commit.”
- “You will meet and make way for a better king.”
If the four prophecies come true, then Arcadia will lose its famous Beat and descend into chaos. In an attempt to escape fate, Basilius whisks the family into the woods where they may be safe from the foretold events. Pamela is accompanied by her wise maidservant, Mopsa (Asia-Ligé Arnold), while Musidorus, disguised as a beautiful Amazonian woman, pursues his beloved Philoclea.
If all of that sounds like the plot from a play you’ve read in high school English class, you’d be thinking along the right lines. “Head Over Heels” is written by Jeff Whitey and adapted by James Magruder (Read our “A Quick 5” interview with him here) from Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia,” a pastoral romance published circa 1593. If you want to explore queerness, it makes sense to borrow from the gayest time period in theatre—the late Elizabethan era. Between John Lyly’s “Gallathea” and Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” it seems like cross-dressing to find gay love in the woods was just a thing you did.
But in seriousness, “Head Over Heels” does a superb job of reinventing these classic tropes for the new millennium. It reaffirms that it’s good to be gay and trans. It also has the Go-Go’s.
The musical benefits greatly from Sean Elias’ smart and simple direction. It’s not a difficult play but the script heavily uses Sidney’s original blank verse so audiences will have to deal with a bit of “thee” and “thy.” The set by Thomas Jenkeleit is spare, just a three-level scaffold that will remind most modern musical-goers of “Rent” and it works beautifully here too. Costumes by J. Ethan Harvey are glitter and sequins galore—more of that always please! This is likely the most accessible production in what Iron Crow is calling their “Season of Defiance” and I mean that as a compliment. The show is widely appealing. Your uncle who’s just realized he’s actually “good with the gays”; your aunt who doesn’t get to much theatre; and your mom who was a high-school rocker chick in the ‘80s will all enjoy themselves and have fun. Also, it’s the Go-Go’s! You’ll be singing the music all the way home.
“Head Over Heels” at Iron Crow Theatre is exactly the kind of musical you want to see at the holidays when you don’t want to see a musical about the holidays. It’s about family, relationships, and sparkles. It’s based on an Elizabethan comedy so you know that eventually everyone will end up with the right person (but you’ll have to see it to learn how). I don’t know that my thinking on sex and gender were challenged by watching this. It doesn’t have much revolutionary to offer in the twilight of 2022. But I think that’s ok for me. This year has seen record-breaking numbers of anti-LGBT legislation and it’s a relief to take a break from queer pain for two hours. We can have a little queer joy, as a treat. Maybe it’s the unabashed joy that is revolutionary.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.
Advisory: Ages 10+. Contains adult content and sexually suggestive material.
“Head Over Heels” runs through December 18, 2022, presented by Iron Crow Theatre at the Baltimore Theater Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets, go online. For more information about Baltimore Theater Project, click here. Face masks are required all times for all patrons, visitors, and staff regardless of vaccination status in all indoor spaces in the building. Masks may be briefly removed when actively eating or drinking.