This isn’t the sort of musical that needs rave reviews. There are still fans of the all-female Go-Go’s band that hit it big time in the early 1980s for whom just hearing favorite songs again would be enough. However, the positive news is that the creators of “Head Over Heels” have cleverly put the numbers together with a plot based on a 16th century classic. It is a production that entertains on many counts, including showy performances, amusing costumes, savvy scenery, imaginative lighting and some updated gender exploration. To call this a jukebox musical would be denigrating. It comes through with a lot more than that as a fun-filled experience worth discovering on your own. In tune with the spirit, there is a five member, all-women band doing musical justice to the Go- Go’s repertoire.
“Head Over Heels” was conceived with an original book by Jeff Whitty based on “The Arcadia,” a classic narrative poem by prolific Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1585). This adaptation is by James Magruder, with Michael Mayer’s outsized direction, energized choreography by Spencer Liff and musical supervision, orchestration and arrangements by Tom Kitt. The assorted elements from cast to the technical expertise come together dynamically, starting with the rousing opening number “We Got the Beat,” the Go-Go’s signature hit.
The setting is Arcadia and environs, and the convoluted plot and relationships may remind you of Shakespearian entanglements. The characters include the arrogant King Basilius (Jeremy Kushner); his wife Gynecia (Rachel York); their hefty and brassy older daughter Pamela (Bonnie Milligan); their more timid younger daughter (Philoclea); the king’s viceroy Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins); his daughter Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), a handmaiden; Musidorus (Andrew Durand), a shepherd in love with Philoclea, and Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi (Peppermint). An eight-member ensemble adds boundless energy.
With predictions that Arcadia may fall, the king launches into intrigue. Off he goes to see the Oracle. The appearance of Peppermint as the Oracle is a blast. She is being touted as the first transgender woman to create a principal role on Broadway, and lavishly costumed Peppermint delivers with powerful comic elan.
The elder daughter Pamela is another highlight. She has trouble finding suitors to marry her, and as she tries to create poetry about her hoped-for perfect mate, the rhyming that keeps coming up indicates she needs someone with body parts like her own. It turns out that Mopsa fits the description in one of the show’s revelations. And Milligan as Pamela is a terrific singer, which she demonstrates handily with “How Much More.” Jones as Mopsa also impresses with her big number “Vacation.”
When Musidorus, the lowly shepherd is banned by the king from marrying Philoclea, he disguises himself as an Amazon warrior, and that sets off further adventure for the musical. Is there any doubt that the young lovers will eventually unite?
The king and his rebellious wife accidentally couple when the king thinks he is having sex with the Amazon, cleverly presented by shadows seen through a back-lit scrim. York is especially good as the feisty queen. There is a lot of such fun with the scenery, including a make-believe sea, with mermaids swimming and a fish diving in and out of the water. Almost everything is expressed with humor, as when we see the shepherd’s dancing sheep.
With it all the Go-Go’s numbers are deftly worked into the action. In addition to the aforementioned, there is a hit parade of other songs, including “Get Up and Go,” “Mad About You,” “Good Girl,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Head Over Heels,” “Lust for Love,” “Here You Are” etc.
Even if you never heard of the Go-Go’s you should find plenty to enjoy seeing the exuberant “Head Over Heels.” At the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street. Phone: 855-801-5876. Reviewed August 2, 2018.