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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Head Over Heels
Review by Alexa Chipman | Season Schedule

Peppermint and the Ensemble of Head Over Heels
Photo by Joan Marcus
Head Over Heels is a glittering, gender-fluid musical loosely inspired by Sir Philip Sidney's elaborate romance The Arcadia. It follows the exploits of a sixteenth-century royal family, energized by the contagious rhythm of popular songs by the Go-Go's with a light-hearted fairytale atmosphere of mistaken identities, mermaids and princesses that is overshadowed by a dire prophecy from Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi, who warns of catastrophe, and an even worse fate for the kingdom—losing their dope beat.

Dynamic choreography by Spencer Liff sparks sly comedy, mixing the wild abandon of 1980s party dancing with contemporary techniques, moving the story through a fluid spectacle. Charismatic music direction from Kimberly Grigsby and an entirely female instrumental ensemble is a fitting tribute to the Go-Go's' iconic sound. Transitioning effortlessly between locations, Julian Crouch's pastoral scenic design evokes idyllic forests with touches of crumbling pillars and the stuffy palace of Arcadia, hunched over from the weight of a fastidious classical pediment. Tiny lanterns flicker under the woodland canopy, waves lap against the beaches of Lesbos, and elaborate tents mark the royal encampment.

Jeff Whitty's whimsical book utilizes iambic pentameter, with mixed results. "Ventilate the belfry of thine mind," Pamela suggests, an apt request for the audience of Head Over Heels. It is effectively used when the princess attempts to write a poem describing her true love, unaware that her disinterest in the virile, shirtless suitors is due to their masculine gender. She keeps leaving out the final word of her lines, a rhyme which clearly states her preference for women echoing into the silence. Pamela stares at her sheet of parchment, puzzled at the outcome, to the amusement of Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones) who casually narrates the tale while having adventures of her own.

Self-assured and high maintenance, Pamela (Bonnie Milligan) is convinced that her beauty is unsurpassed, oblivious to the pitfalls of desire awaiting her. Milligan's confidence and timing form an unorthodox, entertaining princess prone to peevish fussing. Younger sister Philoclea (Alexandra Socha) is sweet and unassuming, carrying a birdcage through most of the play until she manages to break free of her own gilded bars of external perceptions shaping her decisions. Socha's reactions are captivating, with animated eyes and a sensational rendition of "Good Girl."

Peppermint, of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame, will be the first transgender woman originating a principal on Broadway in her role as Pythio, the enigmatic oracle draped in sparkling cascades of feathers and gossamer, dispensing sage advice and throwing shade at the inflexible Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier). Her protégé, Musidorus (Andrew Durand), is an adorable, awkward shepherd in love with the youngest princess, to whom he addresses a heartfelt "Mad About You." When rejected by the officious king, he follows the oracle's suggestion, and disguises himself to win her affection in secret, with hilarious repercussions. Rachel York is a dignified Gynecia who is led to question her acceptance of a duty-based marriage, delivering memorable lines with a fiery elegance.

Kevin Adams' lighting design and Andrew Lazarow's projections combine into dappled light filtered through branches, seething serpents hissing in the oracle's cavern, a sexy sunset silhouette and vivid pulsing of magenta and neon green mimicking a gigantic amplifier. Tudor crinolines and formal attire are referenced in Arianne Phillips' costumes, which have taken on a life of their own. She has transformed white fabric into an array of patterns and colors, such as an imaginative print of the Go-Go's sheet music on puffy skirts and codpieces for the ensemble. The king is "blinged-out" in flashing gems and an ostentatious crown. In the oracle's grotto, the snake gauntlet designs are impressive, with individual scales and puppet-like mouths.

"Guide us to our best selves," the queen urges on behalf of her kingdom. This celebration of diversity and acceptance fulfills her wish in a boisterous queer musical that will delight and inspire, directed by Michael Mayer. Its earnest mission does cause it to feel saturated with artificial sweetener, and there are times when it is trying too hard, such as the chaotic "Turn to You." Head Over Heels is enchanting, with innocent charm and a lively, headlong rush toward love, rekindling a belief in happy endings.

Head Over Heels, through May 6, 2018, at the Curran, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco CA. For more information and tickets, visit or call 415-358-1220.

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