The Human Experience Rings True in Passionate Fairytale ‘Head Over Heels’

Head Over Heels, infused with the classic pop hits of The Go-Go’s as well as original music, has instantly become a musical theater standard. Based on the pastoral prose-poem The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, this jubilant and thoroughly modern piece of theater delights and entertains on a grand scale. Replete with powerhouse songs, dance numbers, and an engaging story, Kokandy Productions’ Head Over Heels is a must-see summer musical.

The story follows a King who takes his royal family on a road-trip in a desperate attempt to elude a terrifying prophecy handed down from the Oracle, that would strip the kingdom of its beloved musical heartbeat, thereby hearkening its destruction. The show embodies a distinctly Shakespearean ethos, hitting all of the classic hallmarks: the dramatic high-stakes story, the florid speech, the madcap cross-dressing hijinks. However, this is where the Bard usually ends his tales, Head Over Heels transcends, choosing to invest in the truth of the moments when a character is living in another gender, infusing legitimacy and respect to a human moment usually only played for laughs or tragedy.

Frankie Leo Bennett, one of Chicago’s most talented up-and-coming actors, plays the petulant, self-righteous king Basilius, who puts his own fears ahead of the best interests of the kingdom. He infuses his portrayal of this standard fairytale villain with lightness and fun, creating the kind of baddie that is fun to root against. A king is nothing without his queen, and Bennet is matched pound-for-pound by the equally talented Liz Norton as queen Gynecia. Her bawdy quips and gorgeous voice, especially during their duet, keeps the story pushing along with vigor.

No fairytale is complete without a princess, and Head Over Heels has two – Caitlyn Cerza and Bridget Adams-King as Philoclea and Pamela, respectively. Adams-King is a laugh riot as the bossy and vain older sister who has *ahem* not quite figured herself out yet, even though she is destined to be married off to the first eligible suitor. Fortunately for her, her best friend and dedicated lady-in-waiting Mopsa, played by a delightfully surly Deanalis Resto, is there to help guide her closer to discovering her truth.

Cerza plays the more traditional and younger sister Philoclea,, and is paired with Jeremiah Alsop who plays Musidorus, a gentle farm-boy who could never hope to have the royal hand of a princess. Their storyline thankfully wildly diverts from the common Disney princess tropes, leading them on an unexpected whirlwind of twists and turns. Serving as puppet-master to this grand story is the indomitable Parker Guidry as the all-knowing and ever-stylish Oracle Pythio. Popping up unexpectedly, draped in the rafters in luxurious sequins and capes (created by talented Costume Designer Uriel Gomez), they are the core of the tale, holding the fates of the kingdom in their hands, and holding notes until the audience erupts in applause.

One of the challenges of integrating popular music into a new work is not having the well-known songs stick out like a sore thumb. Head Over Heels not only integrates the songs of the Go-Go’s seamlessly, but the band and vocalists execute the songs expertly, without sacrificing the intrinsic joy of the beloved pop hits like “We Got The Beat” “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.” On many occasions, deeper meaning is found in the lyrics, and the songs are wryly edited to support the overall story. Most of the original music rises up to meet the guaranteed hits (with a few exceptions) and overall the vocals are spectacular. Every vocalist in this jubilant, energetic cast delivers.

Choreographer Breon Arzell does amazing work, setting snappy and fun choreography on the talented company of dancers that enhances the songs and tone of the musical. The only bit that doesn’t work is an ambitious piece at the top involving a Maypole which might have better been left out completely if not more fully-integrated into the already great opening number. Besides that minor quibble, the dancers are absolutely breathtaking, executing leaps and twirls that keep the dance numbers and scene transitions engaging. All of this spectacle is accompanied by a stellar live-band under the musical direction of Kyra Leigh that does full justice to the powerhouse cover songs and buoys the equally powerful vocalists.

Firing on all pistons, Head Over Heels is joyous in its depth. Silly and a little bit bawdy – everything a great musical should be. The king’s faithful man-servant Dametas, played by a wonderful Shane Roberie, quips “A man often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Well, Head Over Heels couldn’t avoid complete success if it tried.

Head Over Heels is produced by Kokandy Productions and runs through August 25th at Theater Wit.

CAST
Pamela – Bridget Adams-King
Musidorus – Jeremiah Alsop
Basilius – Frankie Leo Bennett
Philoclea – Caitlyn Cerza
Pythio – Parker Guidry
Gyncia – Liz Norton
Mopsa – Deanalis Resto
Dametas – Shane Roberie
Ensemble – Emily Barnash, Caitlin Dobbins, Britain Gebhardt, Connor Giles, Kaimana Neil, Roy Samra, Tiffany T. Taylor, Marco Tzunux

Production Team
Co-Directors – Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson
Conceived & Original Book – Jeff Whitty (Based on The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sydney)
Songs – The Go-Go’s
Adaptor – James Macgruder
Music Direction – Breon Arzell
Choreography – Breon Arzell
Stage Management – Hannah Cremin
Scenic Design – Chris Rhoton
Lighting Design – G. “Max” Maxin IV
Costume Design – Uriel Gomez
Intimacy Director – Sarah Scanlon
Fight Choreographer – Kate Booth
Sound Design – Michael J Patrick
Props Design – Adam Borchers
Master Electrician – Abby Letscher
Sound Engineer – Patrick O’Brien
Production Management – Nicholas Reinhardt
Technical Director – Johnnie Schleyer
Assistant Stage Management – Rachel Coffey
Photographer – Michael Brosilow
Paint Charge – Emily Boyd

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