The Long Island Advance
June 10, 2022 - Linda Leuzzi
You’re Gonna Be ‘Head Over Heels’ For This Musical
Six Arcadians appear on stage, urging the audience to participate in the “beat.” No sitting still, give it some attitude, a little oomph, and please, click those fingers.
And if it’s not a Go-Go’s song, say no-no.
That’s the clever intro for “Head Over Heels,” now playing at The Gateway.
Sixteen citizens of Arcadia, that fantasy kingdom, blessed Gateway viewers on opening night with awesome dancing, singing hits that surmounted the upper reaches of heaven, and brilliant comedic timing.
The show-stopping “We Got the Beat” introduces the story; in the fictional medieval land of Arcadia, citizens must avoid several prophesies to avoid losing its “beat” of peace and tranquility. Princess Pamela, bored with the men paraded before her, must marry a male suitor; her younger sister Philoclea must reject her true love, Musidorus, the shepherd. But Mopsa, the viceroy’s daughter and Pamela’s handmaiden, is in love with her princess, while her dad wants her to be with a boy. And King Basilius and his wife Gynecia must avoid adultery. So the king, queen, the princesses and their subjects, flee Arcadia to avoid dire results.
It’s a delicious compilation of iambic pentameter errors that somehow conjures The Go-Go’s hits throughout.
Renee Marie Titus as Princess Pamela embraces her narcissist role with full-tilt glee. But you kind of like her, even with her unabashed self-importance. Her octave range, particularly when she sings “Crazy,” is literally off the charts (did we hear one or two klieg lights break?) after she hurls a lamp and ditches the birdcage. Josh Canfield as Musidorus the shepherd (watch him hilariously vamp surrounded by several “sheep” who sway in the background to “Mad About You”) is uproarious as the guy who disguises himself as an Amazon woman to be with Philoclea. After he “re-genders” himself as Cleophilia the Amazon and slays a lion that threatens the royal family, he’s invited into their fold. (See the cast do the “Cool Jerk” with Fosse moves.) He’s so good as a woman he has to fend off everyone who falls in love with his charm. Canfield is a humor master. He arches eyebrows, flexes his muscles, and oh that long, blonde wig he twirls with elan.
Oh, but it gets better. The “Vacation” number, sung by Gina Ward as Mopsa, after she leaves her princess in anger and vacations on Lesbos, is an all-out hoot. As she sits on the shore, waves undulate, pink fish jump, maidens waterski and surf. Even a mermaid makes an appearance.
Turner Riley as Pythio, the non-binary Oracle of Delphi, is a commanding character in fabulous green, black, and purple costumes. Pythio is surrounded by minions, serpentine dancers slithering with snake heads for hands, as they dole out prophesies with wrathful authority but also wisdom. Singing “Vision of Nowness” with Musidorus and the female ensemble packs a powerful punch. Molly Rushing as Philoclea (we saw her in “Newsies”) is terrific as the supposedly plainer sister who wants her true love and can’t have him. “Good Girl” is a plaintive anthem for all those who do the right thing but don’t get credit.
Tyson Jennette as King Basilius and Jennifer Byrne as Queen Gynecia are the long-married couple who lost their spark, but in a hilarious scene behind a blanket, find it, thinking they’re doing it with someone else. Steve Brady returns as Dametas, providing gravitas and humor as Mopsa’s dad; he has a story of his own.
A little spoiler alert on the ending. There’s dastardly villain moment when King Basilius allows his murderous ego to ramp up, but ultimately his sincere remorse saves him.
The satisfying finale provides a thoughtful “what if.”
There are so many aspects of this production that are stellar: the fabulous Broadway sets, including the drop-down snake, the gorgeously vivid costumes with jewels and glitter (wow, Tudor French hoods, Elizabethan ruffs and wide-shouldered waistcoats and breeches, embroidery and shimmering details). The Go-Go’s songs are woven creatively through the story and sung with gusto. And the dancing… the moves are gloriously inspired. The entire cast, ensemble, and orchestra just fling out their joy. You have until June 26 to catch it.
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Smithtown Matters Theatre Review
The Gateway’s Long Island Premiere of Head Over Heels is a “Beautiful” Way to Celebrate Pride Month
Head Over Heels – The Go-Go’s Musical, running now through June 26, is The Gateway Playhouse’s first show of their new year-round season. This bawdy Elizabethan-era farce, complete with plenty of anachronistic jokes, follows the escapades of a royal family and their subjects as they explore gender fluidity, sexual awakening, the real meaning of beauty, and ultimately– acceptance. Me thinketh the theme that “only loves matters” and “love is love” are befitting messages for any musical! Add the additional themes of “live your truth” and “find your true identity,” and you have the stuff of a hit show that leaves you feeling like there is hope for humanity after all.
Head Over Heels – The Go-Go’s Musical This 2018 Broadway jukebox musical utilizes the music and lyrics from the catalog of the iconic 1980’s all-female rock band, “The Go-Gos.” The inspiration for this musical came from Sir Philip Sidney’s Renaissance pastoral romance “Arcadia.” Jeff Whitty conceived the show and wrote the original book, which James Magruder later adapted.
Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You” are two songs also featured in this musical, and they were my favorite numbers in the show. “Heaven is a Place on Earth” had a sensual, steamy, shadow love scene that was breathtaking to behold. The energetic reprise of “Mad About You,” featuring the entire company, was a showstopper.
The musical opens with the entire company giving a rousing performance of the mega-hit “We Got the Beat,” which lets the audience know they are in a for a merry musical treat.
As for vocalists, this show is chockful of major talents. Gina Ward as Mopsa, the Viceroy’s strong-willed daughter, and Renee Marie Titus as Pamela, the vain, oldest princess daughter, gave standout performances when they belted out the hit song “Turn to You.” Ms. Titus also rocked the song “Beautiful,” displaying her comedic acting skills as well during this number.
Tyson Jennette as Basilius, the pompous King of Arcadia, and Jennifer Byrne, the bored, sometimes dutiful, sometimes sexually adventurous Queen Gynecia, gave memorable performances during the duet “This Old Feeling.” Ms. Byrne is a comedic genius, and with just a mere facial expression or wave of her hand, she had the audience roaring with laughter. She surprised the audience when she gracefully slid into a split, letting us know she could dance up a storm!
Molly Rushing as Philoclea, the younger princess daughter, smitten with a low-stationed shepherd boy, had an angelic voice and graceful demeanor reminiscent of a reserved Disney princess. Her moving rendition of “Here You Are,” where she opens her heart to her would-be lover, was one of the show’s highlights.
Josh Canfield portrays Musidorus, a shepherd who dresses in drag to win the hand of Philoclea. Mr. Canfield displayed his comedic skills during a hilarious scene where he alternates between being the object of the queen’s desire, flexing his muscles to reveal his masculine side, and wiggling his hips sensuously, displaying his goddess energy, enticing the king. Mr. Canfield also delivered a knockout performance during “Mad About You,” joined by the Male Ensemble, who aced this number.
Turner Riley as Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, an ethereal, non-binary soothsayer, who delivers four dire prophecies to King Basilius, wore some of the most breathtaking costumes in the show. Pythio, who likes to be referred to by the pronouns they/them, gave a riveting performance, accompanied by the sensuous Snakelets, to the song “Vision of Nowness.”
Some of the campiest moments in the play came from Steve Brady as Dametas, the King’s Viceroy. He has a strong singing voice, and his acting ability was equally impressive. Special mention goes out to Grace Benedetto, Delaney Gruber, Ashton Hololob, and Jaye Pegg, the glorious offstage voices that added harmony and depth to many songs.
This modern-day fairytale, complete with a “Happily Ever After” ending, was directed and choreographed with finesse and exacting precision by veteran director Keith Andrews with collaboration from Vincent Ortega and music direction by Andrew Haile Austin.
The ultra-talented ensemble members included Lincoln Belford, Shannon Conboy, Jesse Jones, Maya Kazzaz, Ashley Klinger, Gracie Phillips, Vincent Ortega, and Jordan Vasquez. This versatile group of performers displayed a kaleidoscope of kinesthetic wonders throughout the show, from sky-high kicks to flips and cartwheels and even scooting by on a unicycle. Their nonstop energy and enthusiasm were the glue that held this rambunctious musical together.
The Gateway’s production of Head Over Heels features the original Broadway scenic design by Julian Crouch and original Broadway costumes designed by Arianne Phillips, adding another level of professionalism to this polished to perfection show. Throw in a live orchestra, lively choreography, powerhouse vocals, fun pop-up sets, and a triumphant finale, and Gateway has got themselves a must-see musical.
Tickets are on sale now for the full season and can be purchased as a curated or flexible subscription – giving you the best value on ticket prices and many other great benefits – or as single tickets (starting at $59). Teen and youth prices are available for select shows. For more information, contact the Box Office at (631) 286-1133, or visit the website at TheGateway.org.
Cindi Sansone-Braff is an award-winning playwright. She has a BFA in Theatre from UCONN and is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Long Island Authors Group. She is the author of Grant Me a Higher Love, Why Good People Can’t Leave Bad Relationships, and Confessions of a Reluctant Long Island Psychic. www.Grantmeahigherlove.com.