Near West Theatre’s ‘Head Over Heels’ proves that Heaven is a Place on Earth
Combine Greek Tragedy, medieval costuming, dialogue in iambic pentameter (with a lot of Shakespearean sounding thees and thous), a sound track by the 1980s all-girl pop-punk quintet band the Go-Gos, a heavy emphasis on the LGBTQ movement and sexual freedoms and a rocking five piece orchestra and what you have is “Head over Heals” now on stage at Near West Theatre.
Somehow, this mish-mash story of the shepherd, Musidorus (David Turner) falling in love with the princess Philoclea (Camila Pinero) against the wishes of her family (especially her father, King Basillius (Robert Kowaleski stepping in for Adam Rawlings), while her older sister Pamela (Christina Ciofani) falls in love with the hired help Mopsa (Madelyn Hayes) as Musidorus disguises himself as an Amazon woman (complete with brass breast plate and horrible blonde wig) who is pursued by Queen Gynecia (Sydney Noelle Warren) who discovers that he is a man while the Oracle Pythio (Roman Novosel) predicts that the kingdom is doomed to “lose the beat” and drops small flags of warning that the King’s assistant Dametas (Donnell James) keeps finding and fretting over...somehow it all works and comes together.
As Near West Theatre’s motto states, “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Theatre” as this true community theater organization works hard to be all inclusive to everyone no matter what their gender orientation, body type or beliefs. What makes this show work is the simple fact that the people on stage, behind the stage and making the music are all extremely talented. There are musical numbers where the harmonies combined with the orchestrations are absolutely exquisite. There are also some cute but naughty adult situations that are played out much to the delight of the audience.
“Head Over Heels” is what we call a jukebox musical comedy that uses songs of The Go-Go’s. The show was written by Jeff Whitty then adapted by James Magruder and is based on Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th century book “The Countess of Pemboke’s Arcadia”. It had a five month opening at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival out door theater in June 2015. It opened on Broadway on July 26, 2018 in the Hudson Theatre until it closed on January 6, 2019. The show had mixed reviews. Near West Theatre’s production is directed by Trinidad Snider.
Be forewarned, this is a long sit of two hours and forty minutes that includes a ten minute intermission as there are twenty scenes and as many songs to go through. Happily, for the most part the time passes quickly as the actors work very hard to make their marks and the stage crew gets the sets together quick-quick.
To fill out the sound, the production uses “pit singers” to give a little extra oomph to the vocals. Members of the pit singers include Amanda Bender, Katie Blume, Joel Fenstermaker, Robert Kowaleski, Shannon McPeek-Korth and Madeline Saraniti.
The Orchestra is composed of Jordan Cooper (Conductor and Keyboard), Jesse Fishman (Guitar 1), Jesse Hodgson (Guitar 2), Tim Keo (Bass) and Justin Hart (Percussion).
The Dance Ensemble consists of Kyla Burks, Kyle Burnett, Bryce Cook, Emma Devine, Alyssa Henkelman, Sydney Lewis, Mark Vandevender and Emma Clark. The Ensemble is made up of Rachael Armbruster, Amy Aust, Giovanni Conti, Stacie Eleby, Russell Miller, Dawon Owens, Erin Sheplavy and Mayela Squires.
This frothy and exuberant musical is a perfect way to spend an evening at the theater. The much better than usual singing talent combined with well thought out dance numbers and easily remembered flashes from the 80s music scene will delight. We Got The Beat.
The Near West Theatre production of “Head Over Heels” will be onstage in their theater, 6702 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio through May 7, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.nearwesttheatre.org/ or call (216) 961-6391.